$750,000 donation helps in race to save boys’ sight


Eamon Doak, 8, and his brother Kealan, 6, were born deaf and face the prospect of becoming legally blind by the time they reach the age of 30 years old.

However, a generous and substantial donation has given the boys hope of saving their sight before the irreversible onset of their inherited retinal disease.

Western Australian businesswoman and philanthropist Rhonda Wyllie tabled $750,000 at a Telethon fundraising auction to buy a stem-cell robot for Lions Eye Institute that will accelerate treatment of conditions such as Usher syndrome, which the brothers were born with.

“There are currently no treatments for Usher syndrome, and Eamon and his brother Kealan will soon start losing their sight without a medical breakthrough,” said Lions Eye Institute's Managing Director, Professor Bill Morgan.

“Having the stem-cell robot will bring hope to families like the Doaks.”

By automating the cell culture work involved in producing human mini-organs, the device can convert significantly more human skin cells into retina and other tissue types, accelerating the rate at which scientists can study the cause of diseases and develop new treatments and cures. 

“Having a stem cell robot will be a game-changer for our research,” said the Perth-based centre’s Dr Fred Chen, who has dedicated his career to solving the mystery behind inherited eye diseases. 

“It will allow researchers to develop treatments for myriad childhood diseases including cancer, diabetes and inherited diseases like cystic fibrosis and inherited retinal diseases.

“We have already discovered a treatment for one gene that causes inherited eye disease and it is our mission to discover treatments for all 250 types of genetic eye diseases.”

Lions Eye Institute's Dr Fred Chen with Eamon Doak

The Wyllie family have a longstanding involvement with the Lions Eye Institute – Mrs Wyllie’s late husband Bill was a patron of the not-for-profit research and treatment centre.

Their latest philanthropy will fully fund the stem-cell robot, which Dr Chen hopes will help his team develop the treatments Eamon and Kealan need to save their sight. 

“It is critical we develop treatments for them now, to stop the degeneration of their retina,” he said. 

“The robot will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We estimate we are five years away from crucial scientific discoveries that could save Eamon and Kealan’s sight.” 

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