Not just a Queensland Institute; a Queensland Institution!

07 Feb, 2015

Celebrating the Queensland Eye Institute’s 50th Birthday in 2015

Australia has changed in many ways since 1965. At that time, Sir Robert Menzies was Prime Minister and an English Viscount, Viscount De L’Isle, Lord Casey, was Governor General. Sir Robert Helpman was Australian of the Year and, marking a significant milestone in Australia’s history, it was the year in which the Government of the day decided to send troops to Vietnam (the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment). It was also the year when the first Victoria Cross from the war in Vietnam was awarded to Kevin Arthur Wheatley for defending a wounded comrade.

One thing that hasn’t changed since 1965 is the spirit of Kevin Arthur Wheatley and the determination of many men and women like him to change the world for the better. It was this same spirit that surely inspired Dr John Ohlrich and colleagues from the Australian Foundation for the Prevention of Blindness (Qld Division) to include ‘the first academic eye institute to incorporate world-class research into diseases that threaten the eye’ into their mission statement. Many changes have occurred since Dr Ohlrich was Director*, however, subsequent directors Prof Lawrie Hirst and now Prof Mark Radford have stayed true to the commitment of creating a world-class research institute and, by doing so, have given us a true Queensland icon.

2015 celebrates QEI’s 50th year and its success continues. In a world where medical research is suffering from the constraints of funding, QEI’s significant contribution to helping prevent blindness and vision difficulties to the people of Queensland is essential. Prof Chirila, QEI’s chief scientist has two inventions in current clinical practise, the AlphaCor™ artificial cornea, and the AlphaSphere™ orbital implant and many other advances are underway. QEI is extremely grateful for the recognition and continuing support of the people of Queensland.

The quality scientific research at QEI is demonstrated by the following:

Of 3,758 research project grants submitted to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia in 2015 (for funding in 2016) only 516 (13.7%) were funded. The project grants are the main government funds that support new research projects and fund their costs. Four of these funded projects included senior researchers from the QEI! This is even more impressive when you consider that less than 2% of competitive funding provided was awarded to vision-related research.

Although it is a prestigious academic achievement to be awarded an NHMRC grant, more often that not, only a small percentage of the funding is directed towards each researcher listed on the grant. So, although a grant can appear significant (approx. $5-800K over three years,), a researcher may only see 1/10th of that and often it doesn’t include salaries.

As technology increases, many government funds are directed towards large equipment grants such as the $30 million awarded to independent MRI Infrastructure Grants. This is neither right nor wrong, however, in a society that is now so dependent on expensive technology, less government money is available to support researchers’ salaries and research projects; a trend I see continuing.

So what is this vital research being undertaken at QEI?

Of 20 incredible projects I’ll mention just two. Prof Chirila, is continuing to benefit patients with research using silk proteins as biomaterials in ophthalmic tissue engineering. The second project, involving A/Prof Nigel Barnett is reducing oxidative damage to vision by creating unique, protective, bio-engineered antioxidant compounds. Both of these projects will continue to make a world of difference to future clinical treatments.

To support QEI or if you require further information, please contact:
(07) 3239 5050