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New research network at McMaster aims to build a better eye

Researchers in Canada have established a new university/industry network to pursue the development of biomaterials, medical devices and drug delivery systems to treat the increasing incidence of eye disease.

The 20/20: NSERC Ophthalmic Materials Network (20/20 Network) has received $5 million as part of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) funding announcement made by federal Minister of State (Science and Technology) Gary Goodyear today at McMaster University in Hamilton. Other funding is being provided by industrial and institutional partners, and the Ontario Centres of Excellence.

"Providing Canadians with a lifetime of perfect vision is the ultimate goal of the network," said Heather Sheardown, scientific director of the 20/20 Network and professor of chemical engineering at McMaster University. "It is rather ambitious but by combining different areas of expertise there is a lot of potential for drastically improving treatment of vision loss."

The 20/20 Network will focus on developing and commercializing new biomaterials, medical devices, and drug delivery devices for treating vision disorders. Some of the products being pursued include: composite and hybrid materials; ocular microgels, microemulsions and triggerable materials for drug release; a drug delivery system that attaches to the back of the eye to eliminate monthly needle injections; and contact lenses that eliminate end-of-day dryness and discomfort.

"The potential for new biomaterials and drug-delivery devices to address vision loss is hugely untapped," said Keith Gordon, vice president research, CNIB and chair of the Board of Directors of the 20/20 Network. "This is the type of initiative we need to release our research talent in Canada, provide new therapies for vision loss, and develop a homegrown industry."

The 12 researchers in the network are from four Canadian universities: McMaster University, where the administrative centre will be based, Queen's University, University of Toronto, and the University of Waterloo.

The 10 industrial partners are: Alimera Sciences, CIBA Vision Corporation, Custom Contact Lenses, Fovea Pharmaceuticals, iCo Therapeutics, Rimon Therapeutics, Siltech Corporation, Take Control Cosmedix, Vista Optics Limited, and Walsh Medical Devices.

It is estimated that 30 to 40 post-doctoral fellows, 35 to 45 graduate students and more than 60 summer students will be trained through the network over the five-year funding period.

"There is a lot of innovative and promising work being done in universities to address disorders of the eye and other conditions," said Michael May, president, Rimon Therapeutics Ltd. and a member of the board of directors. "This network provides an ideal forum to bring key players together and move solutions into the market as quickly as possible."


Contact: Gene Nakonechny
905-525-9140 x26781
McMaster University

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