Sight Saver Stephanie Watson Nominated for Award

Professor Stephanie Watson has dedicated her life’s work to preserving one of life’s most precious gifts: the gift of sight.

She saves and restores sight for many, and one extremely grateful patient is giving something back in her own way, nominating her for the Care and Compassion Medal in the Pride of Australia Awards 2014.

Professor Watson is an ophthalmic surgeon specialising in cataract, corneal and laser surgery at Sydney Eye Hospital’s new Bicentennial Eye Clinic. She has developed a new stem cell therapy technique.

“The cornea has a very unique architecture to ensure that it remains transparent,” Professor Watson explains.

“When that architecture is disrupted, such as in stem cell failure, it becomes hazy.”

The cornea is the transparent film that covers the front part of the eye, including the iris and pupil. When it gets hazy, it reduces vision, eventually causing blindness.

Professor Watson developed a technique to transfer healthy stem cells onto the cornea. The new stem cells re-populate the damaged area of the cornea so that abnormal tissue won’t grow back.

Sandy O’Brien, one of Professor Watson’s patients, is just one of many who are benefiting from this pioneering work, and to show her gratitude Sandy has nominated her for the prestigious award.

“Stephanie has saved my sight many times – without payment,” Sandy explains.

She has a condition called aniridia, which means that she has no irises in her eyes to control the size of her pupils, which in turn control the amount of light that reaches the retina. The condition requires corneal transplants and is complicated by stem cell failure, which causes abnormal tissue to re-grow.

“Stephanie has performed two corneal transplants on my right eye and one on my left in the past five years,” Sandy explains. “This brought me back from blindness.

It has been a battle to keep the sight but Stephanie has worked hard with stem cell therapy.

In April she gave me a new cornea in my left eye, as it was failing fast. I was using a white stick and had no hope of ever seeing again. But she worked her magic and gave me my sight back.

I now feel normal and able to walk around, get the bus and train and go shopping by myself, without a carer or stick.

No one knows I’m vision impaired as I’m so confident and can now see stairs and go up and down them.”

Professor Watson was invited to appear on the ABC’s New Inventors program in 2009 to share the new stem cell technique. She developed a method of growing corneal stem cells on a contact lens.

When the lens is fitted over the patient’s eye, the stem cells transfer to the cornea. The innovation won the episode and the People’s Choice Award.

Professor Watson was attracted to ophthalmology because of the real impact she could have on people’s lives.

“It struck me you could make a difference. You can change people’s lives, you can restore vision in people who can’t see,” she said.

She has a remarkable body of work behind her, establishing her exceptional talents early in her career.

She was awarded her PhD for developing a new dry eye therapy and wound healing model, and went on to complete clinical trials and publish dozens of articles in peer-reviewed journals. She also holds an international patent for Therapeutic Ocular Surface Medium, a novel therapy for dry eye and corneal ulcer.

But it’s her direct work restoring sight for people of all ages that wins Professor Watson so many hearts. From the little boy whose eye was pecked by a magpie, to the woman with a detached retina caused by an accidental blow to the head, to the man whose sight was destroyed by acid in a workplace accident.

These are the real people and the real lives at the heart of Professor Watson’s brilliant career.

We look forward to updating you on her ground-breaking work in the future.

The idea of the clinic came at the time of the Bicentennial of Sydney Hospital in 2011. It was an opportunity for us to create a new space within the Hospital for a couple of highly specialised areas of ophthalmology – the corneal and retinal units.

The Eye Hospital deals with a range of different areas of ophthalmology which have become increasingly specialised in the last 10-20 years. In terms of the number of patients seen, the two busiest subspecialties are cornea and retina. These are also two highly technology-dependent areas of ophthalmology.

The Bicentennial Eye Clinic is a purpose-built facility specifically for those specialties, with brand new ‘state of the art’ equipment. It gives us the ability to do all the consultations, diagnostics and a lot of treatments in that one area. Obviously, there are still things we need to do in the operating theatre but there is a range of treatments which are able to be done in the Clinic.

Over the years, the Foundation has managed to provide more than $12,417,000 for the benefit of Sydney Eye Hospital, which in turn benefits many thousands of public patients attending the Hospital every year. With the help of our loyal supporters, we have assisted with the building of the new Eye Hospital in Macquarie Street, purchased state-of-the-art equipment and funded numerous research projects into the prevention of blindness.

Today, more than ever, with demand increasing and government funding always under pressure, your generous support is vital to ensuring that the Sydney Eye Hospital can continue to provide the excellent eye care that it has done for some 130 years.

Clinical Fellowships

  • Graham Lovett Vitreoretinal Fellowship $49,504
  • Dr Eddie Donaldson Vitreoretinal Fellowship $50,233
  • Corneal Fellowship $48,313
  • Glaucoma Fellowship $45,903
  • Oculoplastic Fellowship $47,214
  • Professorial / Medical Retina Fellowship $90,824


  • Keratoconus Research Project $95,000
  • MRI Linking Eyes to MS $37,248


  • iPhone Pharmacopeia App $610
  • Corneal Unit – Collagen Cross Linking Device $23,625
  • Goldman Perimeter $2,000
  • Bicentennial Eye Clinic $1,194,086
  • Sydney Eye Hospital Outreach Clinic – OCT $66,554


  • Nurses Grant including Orthoptists $6,818
  • Eye Operations DVD Grant $864


  • Total $1,758,796

Every year Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation funds a number of honorary positions within the Sydney Eye Hospital. The Foundation pays the salary on the fellows for a period of 12 months while they work at the Sydney Eye Hospital. This is made possible thanks to the generous donations of our many supporters.

If you are interested in becoming a Sydney Eye Hospital Fellow you can read about the available positions and application process on our Fellowships page.

Dr Steven Schendel – Glaucoma Fellow

Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation Fellow: Dr Steven Schendel – Glaucoma Fellow
Dr. Steven Schendel completed his ophthalmology residency training in Vancouver, Canada in June of 2013.

He relocated to Sydney in late July to begin his glaucoma fellowship training. He hopes to conduct research into minimally invasive glaucoma surgery while at the Sydney Eye Hospital, and gain further experience in the management of clinical and surgical glaucoma.

He looks forward to exploring Sydney and Australia in the coming year.

Dr Abhishek Kumar – Dr Eddie Donaldson Vitreoretinal Fellow

Dr Abhishek Kumar – Dr Eddie Donaldson Vitreoretinal Fellow

Dr Abhishek Kumar joined the vitreoretinal team in July 2013.

He completed his residency in India and did 2 years vitreoretinal fellowship at Aravind Eye Hospital & PG Institute, Coimbatore.

His goal is to become a proficient vitreoretinal surgeon and he believes that Sydney Eye Hospital will provide him with excellent opportunities to learn the most advanced management protocols for different eye conditions.

After this fellowship he aspires to provide vitreoretinal services to the rural population of India.

Dr U-Teng Chan – Corneal Fellow

Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation Fellow: Dr U-Teng Chan – Corneal Fellow
Dr U-Teng Chan is from Malaysia and she hopes to learn and enhance her clinical and surgical skills in Cornea at Sydney Eye Hospital and will return to Malaysia in June 2014 to continue working in the Corneal Unit.

Dr Farhan Qureshi – Oculoplastic Fellow

Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation Fellow: Dr Farhan Qureshi – Oculoplastic Fellow

Dr Farhan Qureshi started as the Oculoplastic Fellow in the Sydney Eye Hospital in July 2013.

He is from the UK and did his ophthalmology training in Liverpool after which he went on to an Oculoplastic Fellowship in Manchester.

He is keen to experience healthcare in Australia and further his skills particularly in endonasal surgery whilst here.

He will be returning to the UK to begin as Consultant Oculoplastic Surgeon in Wigan after his time here.

Dr Emil Sjahreza – Graham Lovett Vitreoretinal Fellow

Dr Emil Sjahreza – Graham Lovett Vitreoretinal Fellow
Coming from Indonesia, Dr Emil Sjahreza started his Vitreoretinal Fellowship at Sydney Eye Hospital in January 2013.

His goal in this fellowship program is to gain as much skills and knowledge as possible from various consultants in the hospital.

He will go back to his country to work as vitreoretina surgeon in Klinik Mata Nusantara, Jakarta.

Dr Gustavo Reis – Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation Fellow

Dr Gustavo Reis – Current Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation Fellow
Dr Gustavo Reis completed his specialist registrar training in Brazil at the Santa Casa de Misericordia Hospital. He has also done a round year as a Glaucoma and Cataract Fellow with Prof. Felicio Silva, a recognised Glaucoma specialist in Brazil.

Dr Reis expects to enhance his studies from the qualifi ed staff attached to the Glaucoma Unit of the Sydney Eye Hospital, improve his clinical and surgical skills and carry out some useful research and development. When not in surgery, Dr Reis supervises in the Outpatients Department providing patient care that has helped him to achieve a better knowledge of eye disease diagnoses and patient management.

Over the years, the Foundation has managed to provide more than $9 million for the benefit of Sydney Eye Hospital, which in turn benefits many thousands of public patients attending the hospital every year.

With the help of our loyal supporters, we have assisted with the building of the new Eye Hospital in Macquarie Street, purchased state-of-the-art equipment and funded numerous research projects into the prevention of blindness.

Today, more than ever, with demand increasing and government funding always under pressure, your generous support is vital to ensuring that the Sydney Eye Hospital can continue to provide the excellent eye care that it has done for some 130 years.

To read a detailed breakdown of how the money was spent in 2012, see the Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation’s September 2013 Newsletter.

The Keratoconus Research Group, which is based at the Sydney Eye Hospital Campus, is made up of scientists and clinicians whose focus is on unlocking the cause of keratoconus. Keratoconus is a very common eye condition that results in a distortion of the window of the eye and is a major cause of visual impairment in Australia. In fact, it is the most common reason that people undergo corneal transplantation in Australia.

The Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation has been the major financial supporter of our research for the last 3 years. During this time we have identified a number of problems in patients with keratoconus at a molecular level. These scientific discoveries are world first and have opened up a whole new area of research into the causes of this disease.

Apart from 5 major publications in highly regarded journals, we have presented our research at 10 major national and international meetings. Our most recent paper was published in “Plos” in August 2013. We are zeroing in on the superficial area of the cornea (the window of the eye) as the primary problem area in keratoconus. Our current hypothesis is that the problem lies in the cell communication and protein excretion within this layer. We are now undertaking further work to confirm this hypothesis. If proved correct, it will point to
therapeutic options for the treatment of this disease.

Dr JingJing Yu is a PhD scientist who works fulltime thanks to the support of the Foundation. She is ably supported in the lab by MS Li Wena dn Associate Professor Michele Madigan. Professor John McAvoy provides valuable scientific advice on the Wnt pathway and Chris Hodge and I provide
the clinical input. Chris is currently completing his PhD in Keratoconus.

Without the support of the Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation and its generous donors this work would
not be possible. We as a team are determined to uncover the secrets of this disease and we are very
grateful for the Foundation’s support in this endeveour. I look forward to updating you on our continued progress.

Professor Gerard Sutton

Professor Sutton has co-authored a book on keratoconus which has proven useful for many sufferers.

Books are available from or the Foundation office. Small profits from these sales are put back into ongoing keratoconus research.

The Keratoconus Research Group, which is based at the Sydney Eye Hospital, is fortunate enough to receive funding from the Foundation. Without the funding and support of the Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation, the Keratoconus Research Group would not be able to continue its exploration into the causes of keratoconus.

Keratoconus is a common condition which causes significant visual disability and loss of sight of Australians. It is the most common indication for a corneal transplantation. Recent studies are suggesting that keratoconus is much more
common than previously thought and often runs in families.

Our research team includes Dr Jing Jing You, Dr Li Wen, Associate Professor Michele Madigan, Professor John McAvoy, Mr Chris Hodge and Professor Gerard Sutton (team leader). Our work has resulted in a number of new fi ndings in the
underlying cellular problems of keratoconus. We have published our fi ndings in prestigious journals such as Clinical & Experimental Ophthalmology and Experimental Eye Research. We have two further publications that we expect to be in press early in 2013.

In addition to the publications, the research has been presented at meetings around the world, including the Australasian Ophthalmic and Visual Sciences meeting in Melbourne, the Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology in Korea, the World Cornea Congress in Boston, the Keratoconus Research Meeting in France and the most esteemed ophthalmic research meeting in the world Association of Research in Vision and Ophthalmology in the United States of America.

Our papers and lectures have sparked further research in the area, with our publications forming the basis of other scientists’ work around the world. Our team has also established the fi rst-ever Australian registry for patients with
keratoconus, which will form part of an Ethics Committee-approved ongoing review of patients with keratoconus. Without the support of the Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation and donors in the community, this work would not be possible.

Our research is receiving international recognition and a new collaboration with Professor Charles McGhee at Auckland University has been established for further international research projects.

We are pleased to say that a book co-authored by Professor Gerard Sutton on keratoconus has been very useful for many sufferers of keratoconus. The small profits from the sale of books are put back into ongoing research in keratoconus.

Books available from or the Foundation office.

Every now and then we come across patients with complicated eye health problems which are particularly difficult to treat. Thankfully, as new technology develops, we are given the opportunity to meet these challenges more effectively.

We have just purchased the Intraocular Endoscopy Equipment for the Eye Hospital Theatres. Pictured, right, are doctors using this equipment, which now makes it possible for us to handle cases that would traditionally be considered inoperable.

Endoscopic vitreo retinal surgery is a rarely indicated procedure. Some cases involve eyes that have multiple problems and a poor prognosis. On other occasions, endoscopy makes it possible to salvage vision where other techniques cannot. It can lead to a simple solution for what otherwise would be a complicated problem.

Clearly the team were keen to acquire the equipment but the biggest challenge was fi nding the funds to add it to their arsenal. Thanks to your support, we have been able to provide $43,000 to purchase the actual equipment that was used in the trial for Sydney Eye Hospital (at considerable discount). We believe the system, which includes numerous state of the art components, is the only one of its kind in Australia, once again placing Sydney Eye Hospital at the absolute forefront of eye surgery.

Becoming an eye doctor is a challenging process since it involves long years of education, hence determination is a MUST requirement. An eye doctor is a person who provides eye care services. There are various eye doctors and they differ depending on their level of education. In order to be an eye doctor one has to make a decision on the type of eye specialist he or she wishes to pursue. The main types of eye health care specialists are: optometrists, opticians and ophthalmologists. They have the same goal, which is to provide the best eye care services. These services involve eye surgery, eye examination, selection and fitting of both eye glasses and eye lenses.

Here is a layout on how to be an eye doctor. Ophthalmologists are Medical Practitioners who have specialized in the visual system. They are fully certified to provide services of the entire visual system, which involves prescription of glasses to eye surgery procedures. In order to be a licensed ophthalmologist one is required to attend a medical school for a bachelor’s degree for four years and residency training in both medical and surgical eye care for four years. Qualified ophthalmologists can choose to specialize in a specific area such as neuro-ophthalmology.

Optometrists are referred to as doctors of optometry; they offer the following services: eye examination, diagnosing, treating and managing eye diseases and disorders. They can also offer pre and post-surgical eye care and can also prescribe vision aids, eye glasses and contact lenses. A qualified optometrist must have a degree from an optometry college after his undergraduate degree. Lastly, opticians are eye technicians and they are classified based on the following categories: dispensing opticians and manufacturing opticians. They have a two year technical degree and they are trained to read prescription written by ophthalmologist and optometrists. They dispense eye wears such as eye glasses. Addition, opticians repair and adjust eye glasses.

What is glaucoma? Glaucoma is an eye disease that affects the optic nerve hence causing a progressive and complete vision loss. The optic nerve is the main nerve of vision; it receives light from the retina and transmits it to the brain for interpretation as vision. This type of eye disorder develops progressively; it begins with the loss of the peripheral vision and then loss of the central vision. Due to its slow development process symptoms may go unnoticed hence the condition is termed as the silent vision killer. Glaucoma blocks the drainage system of the eyes clear fluid hence leading to fluid build up and increased eye pressure. Due to this the optic nerve deteriorates and if left untreated total blindness may result.

What is glaucoma and its various forms? Glaucoma is classified into two main types that is, the open and closed angle glaucoma. The closed angle glaucoma is also termed as acute angle closure glaucoma. It is presented with immediate pain and eye discomfort which ensures quick treatment hence prevention of vision loss. The open angle glaucoma is also referred to as chronic glaucoma. This form develops slowly and the individual may not notice since he or she may not feel any discomfort. This leads to vision loss hence eye doctors recommend regular check ups in order to avoid such occurrences.

Other types of glaucoma include: low tension glaucoma, prigmentary glaucoma, secondary glaucoma and congenital glaucoma.
What is glaucoma and its presented signs and symptoms? Glaucoma patients mainly present with the following signs and symptoms. Eye pain, nausea, vomiting, blurry vision and halos around light. Individuals who have this signs should seek medical attention. Treatment methods for glaucoma depend on the severity of the condition. These forms of treatment involve glaucoma surgery, medications such as eye drops and the laser treatment.