The Lions Eye Institute has one million reasons to celebrate 40 years of saving sight

A staff celebration to mark 40 years of saving sight at the Lions Eye Institute, and to recognise a milestone birthday for founder and Patron Professor Ian Constable AO

In 2023 the Lions Eye Institute is celebrating in more ways than one. This year the Institute marks 40 years of saving and restoring sight to the people of Western Australia. It also marks a significant milestone with one million patient visits since the Institute first started treating patients.

The Lions Eye Institute was founded by Professor Ian Constable AO in 1983. Professor Constable was recruited to Australia from Boston, USA and was attracted to the role as he could see the enormous need for improved eye health care in Western Australia.

“When I arrived in 1975, eye surgery was not universally available. Patients had to travel interstate for some conditions. Rural and remote services were very limited,” said Professor Constable.

At the time, Perth-based Lions clubs had established and were running a very successful Glaucoma Detection Clinic, operated from a now-iconic caravan. The clubs went on to form the Lions Save-Sight Foundation WA to expand on this work, and the rest is history.

Over the years, the leadership baton for the Lions Eye Institute has passed from Professor Constable to Professor David Mackey AO and then to the current Managing Director, Professor Bill Morgan.

As a not-for-profit organisation, ongoing philanthropic support has been the cornerstone of success at the Institute, leading to exciting discoveries, breakthroughs and inventions – all in the name of saving sight.

Some of the Institute’s biggest breakthroughs, inventions and treatments include:

  • Inventing the first soft artificial cornea
  • Discovering gene therapy to treat wet age-related macular degeneration
  • Inventing the XEN® Gel Stent, the most used surgical glaucoma implant in the world, and the Virna Glaucoma Drainage Device, an affordable treatment for glaucoma used in Indonesia
  • Creating the Barrett Universal II Formula used in cataract surgery
  • Pioneering the central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO) bypass laser surgery procedure, a world-first cure for CRVO
  • Making a significant scientific discovery into cytomegalovirus infections, which was awarded the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Scientific Research.

“Over the last 40 years, the Lions Eye Institute has discovered many new sight-saving treatments and therapies,” said Professor Morgan.

“This is largely due to the ability of our medical researchers to work closely with our ophthalmologists, some of whom are researchers themselves, to ensure that patients receive the best possible and most advanced treatment available.

“However, none of this would be possible without the early and ongoing support of Lions clubs, the Lions Save-Sight Foundation WA, federal and state governments and the generosity of philanthropic supporters. Many have been on the journey with us ever since,” he said.

For people living with glaucoma, the invention of the XEN® Gel Stent has saved sight and changed lives. Co-invented by Professor Morgan and Professor Dao-Yi Yu AM, the XEN® Gel Stent was one of the first commercially available minimally invasive surgical devices to treat glaucoma.

One grateful recipient of the XEN® Gel Stent is Jill, a patient of Professor Morgan. “In 2002 an ophthalmologist confirmed I had glaucoma, and advised me to see Professor Bill Morgan, who specialises in glaucoma. At the time, I was 54 years old and worried I might have to retire early,” said Jill.

Jill, a patient of Professor Bill Morgan, in her home

“Professor Morgan initially treated me with drops but they didn’t work. I was then asked to be involved in a clinical trial for what is now known as the XEN® Gel Stent,” she said.

“I am so grateful to the Lions Eye Institute. The XEN® Gel Stents changed my life.”

Professor Morgan said uncovering advances in treatments such as the XEN® Gel Stents that saved Jill’s sight were the driving force behind the Institute’s significant and ongoing commitment to world-class medical research and its translation into clinical practice.

“Often referred to as the most valued of our senses, sight is a gift to be treasured,” said Professor Morgan.

“The need has never been greater for the Lions Eye Institute to discover new treatments and cures for eye diseases, in order to provide better vision for all. We have a strong focus on the future eye care needs of Western Australians and beyond.”

The Lions Eye Institute’s 40th anniversary is being celebrated throughout 2023.

Download the media release.

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