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Australian Government Awards $35M to Consortium for Corneal Blindness Research

Australian Government Awards $35M to Consortium for Corneal Blindness Research

February 16, 2024

In a significant stride towards combating global corneal blindness, the Australian Government's Medical Research Futures Fund (MRFF) has allocated a substantial sum of $35 million to BIENCO, a consortium comprising clinical, scientific, and governance experts.

The University of Wollongong (UOW) stands as a key partner in this endeavor, marking a pivotal collaboration aimed at addressing the pressing challenge of corneal blindness worldwide.

Corneal blindness affects an estimated 23 million individuals globally, with over 10 million people languishing on waiting lists for a corneal transplant. As the third most common cause of blindness on a global scale, corneal blindness underscores the urgent need for innovative solutions to bridge this treatment gap.

BIENCO, an amalgamation of expertise from the University of Sydney, UOW, the University of Melbourne, Queensland University of Technology, the Centre for Eye Research Australia, and the NSW Organ & Tissue Donation Service, emerges as a beacon of hope in this realm.

Building upon UOW's pioneering corneal research, BIENCO aims to pioneer individually tailored, cost-effective bioengineered corneas, poised to revolutionize access to corneal grafts procured from deceased donors. Distinguished Professor Gordon Wallace of UOW assumes a pivotal role within BIENCO, leveraging his expertise to guide the consortium and facilitate the success of its multifaceted projects.

"The cornea is an exquisite biological structure with three different cell types strategically aligned in a 3D biomaterial matrix. We now propose to bioengineer this structure," Professor Wallace remarked, underlining the innovative approach at the core of BIENCO's mission.

Professor Gerard Sutton, BIENCO lead from the University of Sydney, elucidated on the profound impact of corneal blindness on individuals' lives and emphasized the consortium's commitment to developing cost-effective solutions to address this pressing issue.

"BIENCO was launched in 2021 to develop individually tailored corneas that are cost-effective. Thanks to our partnership with the NSW Organ & Tissue Donation Service, we've been able to rapidly develop world-first solutions for corneal blindness that are ready to be put into the market to help patients in Australia and around the world," Professor Sutton affirmed.

Recognizing the transformative potential of BIENCO's endeavors, General Manager of the NSW Organ and Tissue Donation Service, Danielle Fisher, highlighted the broader societal benefits of restoring sight to individuals grappling with severe vision impairment.

"Restoring sight not only benefits an individual person, it benefits their family and community. It allows them to go back to their work, studies, and the community activities that they enjoy. It also reduces the burden on those caring for them," Ms. Fisher articulated.

The collaboration between BIENCO and the NSW Organ and Tissue Donation Service exemplifies the power of collective expertise and concerted efforts in addressing complex healthcare challenges. By harnessing cutting-edge research and collaborative synergy, BIENCO endeavors to pave the way for groundbreaking advancements in the realm of corneal blindness research, promising hope and transformative outcomes for millions worldwide.