University helps earthquake stricken academics continue vital research
21 April 2009
Critical research into the prevention of age-related blindness at an Italian university decimated by the country's recent earthquake will continue thanks to the University of Sydney's Faculty of Medicine.
Associate Dean of Medicine, Professor Chris Murphy announced today the Faculty would contribute to travel and living expenses for a researcher from the University of L'Aquila to continue the important research in a University of Sydney laboratory.
The researcher will join Professor Silvia Bisti, from the University of L'Aquila's Department of Biomedical Science and Technology, who was at Sydney University on sabbatical leave working in Professor Jonathon Stone's laboratory when the earthquake struck last week.
Professor Bisti has a long-standing collaboration with colleagues in the University of Sydney's School of Medical Sciences.
Early last Monday morning the earthquake which struck L'Aquila (capital of the province of Abruzzo in central Italy) destroyed colleagues' houses, Professor Bisti said, forcing them to leave the city, cutting off services to the Department's laboratories, and damaging buildings across campus. The academic year has been abandoned.
Professor Bisti says her labs have been declared structurally unsafe, precious research materials have been lost and her research students' programs are interrupted indefinitely. She is still waiting to discover the fate of her own home. Professor Murphy said the Faculty of Medicine was committed to ensuring her research was able to continue. "Sydney's School of Medical Sciences will contribute to travel and living expenses for one of Professor Bisti's students to continue work in Professor Stone's lab.
"Silvia has visited the University of Sydney on many occasions over the last 12 years, and a string of joint publications has brought credit to both universities. We must ensure the progress of this work, and respond to our colleagues' needs."
Professor Bisti and Professor Stone research the retina's cell biology and how stress and age interact to cause long-term retinal damage and vision loss. "As human longevity grows," says Professor Bisti "we are beginning to outlive our eyes and to go blind in the last decade of life".
"Some of the herbs of Abruzzo are powerful anti-oxidants, and are showing real promise in stabilising the retina under the stresses of aging and light exposure. Saffron is my favourite, but we are beginning to explore combinations, and to do so in a scientifically rigorous way.
"Our work in Sydney is using microarray technology to define the biochemical pathways involved. Our hope is to prevent the blindness of ageing, and to treat the blindness which afflicts young adults with inherited retinal degenerations."
Professor Bisti said "the University of Sydney's generosity at such a difficult time is heart warming".
Interview requests to University of Sydney Media Office:
Kath Kenny (02) 9351 2261 or 0434 606 100 or Sarah Stock (02) 9114 0748 or 0419 278 715.