A lucky find in the form of a six ounce gold nugget is being raffled to raise money for stem cell research into retinal disease.
Chris Morten, president of the Nannup Lions Club and raffle coordinator, found the nugget while prospecting north of Meekatharra in Western Australia 14 years ago with his late wife Dorothy.
Mr Morten suffers from a rare form of retinal damage and has just five percent of normal sight and he’s decided to put his nugget up to raise funds for research.
His reasons are not completely altruistic, he admits his desire to drive again has motivated him.
“It’s been 26 years since a doctor demanded my car keys and, like so many other low vision people, I still long to be back behind the wheel.
“For 15 years my late wife Dorothy did all the driving as we chased outback work in our four-wheel-drive,” Mr Morten said.
The gold nugget, independently valued at $12,500, will be up for grabs at Tandy’s Fight for Sight, named after Mr Morten’s much loved vision assistance dog, in November.
Tandy the two-year old golden retriever is the Lions club mascot, where she was born and bred and will sport a gold nugget on her collar to advertise tickets.
Mr Morten hopes the money raised will support Lions Eye Institute (LEI) Dr Carla Mellough’s research.
The Brian King Research Fellow’s work aims to advance the understanding of human eye development and diseases that cause visual loss.
“We are entering a new era of research where we are able to directly study the human eye in a way which was previously impossible.
“This research involves taking skin biopsies and ‘reverse engineering’ the tissue back from a mature skin identity to a stem cell-like one.
“By coercing the cells in the right way, we can make miniature versions of the eye, which we call ‘organoids’. The retinal organoids can even develop some lens and cornea, just like the developing human eye,” Dr Mellough said.
The ability to directly study the human retina in this way will help tease out how different inherited forms of retinal degeneration are causing visual problems.
By working out why things are going wrong, the LEI researchers hope to create new opportunities to prevent, treat and cure blinding diseases such as macular degeneration and other retinal degenerative diseases, which affect many thousands of Australian families.
Mr Morten is ready to go should the research prove successful.
“I’ve held on to the truck, just in case, and Tandy has booked the front passenger seat in case I get my license back,” said Mr Morten.
The gold nugget winner will be announced at a Nannup Lions Club dinner on Saturday 4 November 2017, when LEI researchers will brief guests on the latest developments in vision research.
For more information about the raffle, visit www.nannuplions.org