submitted by The Australian Newspaper on 23.04.2009
one of only 9 applications from 962 submiiteed, gain funding.
The Australian, April 23, 2009, page 6
Researchers race to develop bionic eye
The scientific race is on for all or part of the $50.7 million allotted for research to develop a bionic eye.
The goal of the research -- funded over four years as part of the Rudd Government's response to last year's 2020 Summit -- is to commercialise a bionic eye able to restore lost vision or improve dwindling eyesight.
In its summit response, the Government said development of a bionic eye would provide a "critical advancement for millions of vision-impaired Australians".
Two approaches to bionic eye research are being pursued by Australian-led teams, both building on the idea of stimulating the optic nerve with electrical signals created from images collected by an externally worn camera.
The approach of University of NSW biomedical engineers Nigel Lovell and Gregg Suaning, and their Melbourne colleagues, is to implant the vision-stimulating device behind the retina. "The advantage is that the device is closer to the nerve cells so you get greater acuity than when it's implanted outside the eye," Associate Professor Suaning said.
But an international collaboration headed by eye specialist Minas Coroneo, director of the Australian Bionic Eye Foundation's consortium, has developed a bionic eye device that sits outside the eyeball. According to Dr Coroneo, it's safer and cheaper than a retinal implant.
Overseas work has found that retinal implants can increase the risk of infection, and even reduce remaining vision.
Both teams have conducted preliminary studies with animals, and Dr Coroneo's group has carried out proof-of-concept trials with 10 people and is now ready to implant a prototype device.
If planned animal trials were as successful as expected, Professor Suaning said, his consortium would be ready to begin human trials within a year.
Dr Coroneo said his team was ready to implant a prototype device and had a volunteer.
Although both groups had previously applied for federal funding, a spokeswoman for the Australian Research Council -- which will administer the $50.7 million -- said the council was seeking new applications.
"We are looking at all feasible proposals as part of a competitive grants process," she said.
According to a joint statement by federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon and Science Minister Kim Carr, bionic eye research will benefit work on medical devices and the mechanical and software systems needed to control them.
Rudd focuses on dad's army and channel for kids
Print Patricia Karvelas | April 23, 2009
Article from: The Australian Page 6
A new dedicated ABC children's channel and $50 million to develop the bionic eye are two of only nine big plans adopted by the Rudd Government after last year's 2020 summit came up with a staggering 962 ideas.
Kevin Rudd has also agreed to other suggestions including a dad's army -- deploying civilians to respond to regional emergencies -- an indigenous cultural and education knowledge centre and a scholarship scheme for Asian and Australian students to promote cultural understanding.
But the Government has shied away from bold and controversial steps, including moving Australia towards becoming a republic and including indigenous people in the preamble of the constitution.
A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said some of the proposals involved no funding at this stage, although more announcements could follow in next month's budget.
The Government has also agreed to a national "Golden Gurus" mentoring program under which retired mentors would support small business and community needs.
"To help meet the challenges of our ageing population and pass on valuable experience from retirees to new generations, the Government is committed to developing a national Golden Gurus mentoring scheme," the Government said in its summit response. "The scheme will be developed during 2009."
The response comes after more than 1000 people took part in the two-day summit in federal Parliament in April last year to discuss ideas in areas including the arts, education, governance and productivity.
Mr Rudd has also agreed to establish a business and school connections roundtable to enhance opportunities for business and schools to work together.
It will develop a skills for the carbon challenge initiative to equip workers and businesses with skills for sustainability and build a single, post-secondary, high-speed broadband network connecting the Australian vocational training system to a similar network that currently serves universities.
The new ABC children's channel will be the only dedicated children's channel available free to Australian homes and will operate in addition to, rather than replace, the ABC's existing children's programming on ABC1 and ABC2. The Government said the channel would be delivered digitally, providing Australian families with more new television content and a further reason to switch to digital.
The $50 million towards the development of a bionic eye will be available through a competitive grants process. "The Government is committed to supporting research where Australia is on the leading edge of innovation as a crucial investment in our nation's future," it said.
"One such area is research into the bionic eye, which is a critical advancement for millions of vision-impaired Australians and promises the development of technologies to translate into other areas of need."
In a statement, Mr Rudd insisted the other 900-odd ideas had not gone to waste. He said the Government had already acted on "many of these", singling out four for special mention -- the review of the tax system, the white paper on homelesness, the emissions trading scheme and reform of commonwealth co-operation with the states and territories.
Mr Rudd later told a community cabinet meeting in Perth that if his Government was re-elected it would be a good idea to hold another 2020 summit to deal with the critical, long-term challenges of the future. "I think this is a good thing to do for governments every several years or so," he said.
One of the summit co-chairs, World Vision chief Tim Costello, said the Government's response was a victim of the global financial crisis: "It's a much shortened list, the grim reaper of the global financial crisis has taken the hatchet -- it's disappointing but not surprising."
Opposition spokesman for industry, science and research Eric Abetz said the summit cost taxpayers $2 million and 12 months later only nine out of more than 900 ideas had seen action: "I think every participant would have every right to feel let down and deeply disappointed with the outcome".
submitted by George Poulos on 24.04.2009
It is deliciously ironic that funding for a programme to enhance vision should arise out of a 20 20 Summit?
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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