A renowned Western Australian ophthalmologist who led the development of a revolutionary intervention to treat the sight stealing eye disease, glaucoma, has been awarded an inaugural Byron Kakulas Medal.

The medal, honouring the late distinguished neuropathologist Emeritus Professor Byron Kakulas AO, founding Director of WA’s Perron Institute, acknowledges people who have had a transformational impact on the health of Western Australians, whether through medical research, clinical practice, health policy, service delivery or community outreach.

Professor Dao-Yi Yu AM, from The University of Western Australia’s Medical School, Centre for Ophthalmology and Visual Science and head of the Lions Eye Institute’s Physiology and Pharmacology group, was recognised for the minimally invasive surgical system he developed with his team.

Around 300,000 Australians and more than 70 million people worldwide are affected by glaucoma, which causes irreversible vision loss due to damage to the optic nerve. As the sight loss is usually gradual, early detection and treatment are vitally important.

“The potential of the game-changing surgical system developed by Professor Dao-Yi Yu and his innovative team to save sight is enormous,” said Professor John Finlay-Jones, Chair of the independent selection committee.

“More than 100,000 glaucoma patients have retained their eyesight since the system was approved by the US FDA in 2016. It was approved by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration in 2018 and is globally recognised as one of the safest and most effective treatments for glaucoma.”

The second of the two Byron Kakulas medals awarded went to the high achieving, highly energetic Perioperative Medicine Team, a collaboration between the Anaesthesia and Pain Medicine Department at Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH) and The University of Western Australia’s (UWA) Laboratory for Drug Delivery and Telethon Kids Institute.

This multidisciplinary team led by Professor Britta Regli-von Ungern-Sternberg, foundation Chair of Paediatric Anaesthesia at UWA and consultant anaesthetist at PCH, has the most active patient-centred paediatric anaesthesia research program in Australasia.

Development of a chocolate-based delivery system to mask the bitter taste of some medications is an example of the team’s innovation, improving medicine taking for children before and after surgical procedures. This was in close collaboration with anaesthetist and pain medicine specialist, Associate Professor David Sommerfield, and a UWA laboratory team led by Professor of Pharmaceutics, Lee Yong Lim.

Investigating the safest method for intubating infants and neonates has been another focus for the team, collaborating with paediatric centres around the world.

“This inspiring team’s achievements greatly impressed the adjudicators,” Professor Finlay-Jones said. “It is committed to optimising and personalising clinical care, effective periprocedural anxiety management, developmentally appropriate communication and excellent pain management.

“In transforming the research space, the team collaborates closely with consumers, surgeons, physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, engineers, scientists, statisticians and health economists across multiple medical and academic institutions.”

Other selection committee members were former Governor of Western Australia, the Hon Kerry Sanderson AC CVO, former Chief Scientist of Western Australia, Professor Lyn Beazley AO, Professor Lindy Fitzgerald (Associate Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, Curtin University), Debra Langridge (Head, Consumer and Community Involvement, WA Health Translation Network) and Professor Steve Wilton AO, Director of the Perron Institute.

Perron Institute Patron, His Excellency The Honourable Chris Dawson AC, APM, Governor of Western Australia, and Mrs Valerie Kakulas, wife of the late Professor Kakulas, presented the medals to the winners last night.

Watch a short video of the individual winner of the Byron Kakulas Medal

Watch a short video of the team winner of the Byron Kakulas Medal

Watch a short video of Prof Kakulas sharing thoughts on the Byron Kakulas Medal

Photo caption: L-R Prof Bill Morgan (on Prof Yu’s behalf), Prof Steve Wilton, Valerie Kakulas, Governor Dawson, Steve Arnott (Perron Institute CEO), Prof Britta Regli-von Ungern-Sternberg, Prof Lee Yong Lim and A/Prof David Sommerfield (PHOTO CREDIT AMMON CREATIVE).