The prospect of moving important glaucoma research projects into the Flinders Health and Medical Research Building (HMRB) excites Dr Mark Hassall – not only for providing access to new state-of-the-art facilities, but also in having the necessary space to accommodate all the relevant researchers, clinicians and laboratory teams.
Dr Hassall, an ophthalmologist with the Flinders Centre for Ophthalmology, and a Flinders Practitioner Fellow who also researches gene therapy in the eye, believes that the new facility will help accelerate research outcomes.
“There will be enough space to have patients come in for clinical measurements, and have all of our laboratory experts in the same building who are working on our genetics research and handle all of our blood, saliva and DNA samples,” says Dr Hassall.
“This will heighten the efficiency and accuracy of everything we do.”
Dr Hassall is currently working on a project to deliver protective genes to the retina, with the aim of protecting retinal ganglion cells and prolonging vision for people with glaucoma. Glaucoma – which affects the ganglion cells of the retina through increased eye pressure and genetic susceptibility, resulting in vision loss – is a leading cause of irreversible blindness and affects an estimated 80 million people worldwide.
The opening of the HMRB facility will be especially timely for the Flinders glaucoma researchers, who have recently been making significant advances under the leadership of Professor Jamie Craig.
Currently, the glaucoma research team is spread across three facilities: the first using areas within Flinders Medical Centre to see patients, two separate laboratories spread far apart within the hospital, and a third location within the College of Medicine and Public Health used for administration and research workspaces. Dr Hassall says centralising clinical research into the one location within the new Flinders HMRB will provide a huge benefit for his team.
“Bringing all of our people and research assets together into a single space will accelerate research outcomes even further,” says Dr Hassall.
Once the new HMRB facility is complete, Dr Hassall and his colleagues will use their large clinical registry of glaucoma patients and their genetic material to design new trials that can test people’s genetic risk for glaucoma.
“We’ve done a lot of discovery work on the genes involved in glaucoma, and now we are ready to start running trials of people at high risk of glaucoma to see whether we can make early sight-saving intervention,” he says.
Running the current glaucoma registry involves about 2500 glaucoma patients who are examined every six months at Flinders. “Twice a week, we have at least 15 patients in, each sitting for a whole battery of tests and measurements. Having a new dedicated space to run those clinics will be excellent,” says Dr Hassall.
“The health system has its challenges just trying to fit its current load of patients into facilities, let alone trying to accommodate a whole new set of patients for important clinical trials, so this new dedicated research facility with additional space is going to be invaluable.”
He also believes that Flinders HMRB providing a centralised area where all the Flinders medical researchers can work together is going to stimulate important new research collaborations.
“Having a single space dedicated to health-related research will bring together so many experts who are ultimately working towards common health improvements. The new facility will foster an environment where it will be easier to have weekly symposiums with people presenting their latest research, which could present you with new collaboration ideas, or\ just the convenience of being able to easily call on other people with outside expertise,” says Dr Hassall.
“I’m honestly very excited by what this facility holds in store for us. Every day, I walk past the new building and watch it taking shape, so I can’t wait to get inside the finished facility and get some fresh momentum happening in our research.”