Australian Vision Research is continuing with the ‘Priming Grant’ Scheme this year, which was established to encourage applications from RANZCO Fellows and AVR members who are in the early stages of their clinical-research career. To be eligible for a priming grant the first named principal investigator must be within the first 5 years of obtaining their RANZCO Fellowship or higher degree (after taking into consideration career disruption), and a member of Australian Vision Research. Other researchers may be named on the investigator team; however, each investigator may be included on only one Australian Vision Research  submission each year. Priming grants will be reviewed, considered, and scored in accordance with all other proposals. Provided eligible grants are submitted, at least one proposal will be funded in this category each year and more than one priming grant may be funded each year.

Professor Alex Hewitt (Chair of Australian Vision Research’s Research Advisory Committee) said getting your first research grant is a major milestone in a clinician-scientist’s career. “The priming grant scheme was established to ensure early career clinician-scientists are supported,” said Prof Hewitt. “For the first time this scheme mandates that at least one ‘priming grant’ must be funded each year. Early engagement will hopefully foster a vigorous environment for the next generation of academic ophthalmologists, and ensure local patients will benefit from research success.”

Last year, Dr Elisa Cornish (Chief Investigator) and A/Prof Samantha Fraser-Bell (Other Investigator) received a Priming Grant to the value of $50,000 for their work titled “Near-infrared Light Photobiomodulation Treatment for Retinal Vein Occlusion Macular Oedema”

In her grant application, Dr Cornish wrote that blockages in the retinal veins (retinal vein occlusions, RVOs) can reduce vision of patients due to the development of macular oedema. Injections of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) inhibitors into the eye are the gold standard treatment for this but are associated with potentially sight threatening risks. She said a less invasive treatment might have many advantages.

We recently showed that eyes with macular oedema caused by diabetes, (the other main cause of macular oedema), which received treatment with near-infrared (NIR) light was not only safe but was also effective in reducing the swelling,” said Dr Cornish. “The US Diabetic Retinopathy Research Collaboration are currently recruiting for a larger study of NIR light which may or may not confirm our findings. We propose to test the safety and efficacy of the same NIR light in patients with macular oedema from retinal vein occlusion. This pilot study will help determine whether PBM with NIR for RVO warrants further investigation in a larger study.”

Researchers interested in applying through the priming grant scheme may also discuss their proposal with a member of the AVR Research Advisory Committee, prior to their submission. This discussion provides the applicant the opportunity to seek direction about their research idea, and the formulation of their proposal. Our hope is that more RANZCO fellows will be encouraged to start and continue ophthalmic research.