Prof. Willcox is the Chief Scientific Officer at Sydney’s prestigious Brien Holden Vision Institute. In an interview with mivision, he spoke about the work he and his team have been conducting and the significant impact it could have on tens of thousands of people world-wide.
Breast cancer continues to be the leading cause of cancer-specific death in women in western countries. And, while screening with mammograms is currently the best available approach for detection in people over 50 years, small lesions are frequently missed – or may not even be visible.
Prof. Willcox’s new approach to testing for breast cancer could provide a more successful solution. Tears are a unique source of body fluid, which contain protein components that can change in local eye disease, systemic diseases such as diabetes and cancer. Importantly, they are straightforward to analyse and easy to harvest, which means multiple samples can be collected over time and monitored for cancer progression or regression.
Professor Willcox is one of the world’s leading contact lens researchers. His efforts to discover biomarkers for disease in the tear film, which acts to protect and lubricate our eyes, led him to this new discovery. Furthermore, his team is now looking to other non-invasive procedures to provide more efficacious detection of diseases such as prostate cancer and diabetes.
…while screening with mammograms is currently the best available approach for detection in people over 50 years, small lesions are frequently missed
He is also working on reducing dangerous infections in biomedical devices such as artificial hearts, cochlear implants, replacement joints and catheters, by coating these materials with an antimicrobial agent.
In recognition of his work, in 2010 Prof. Willcox was awarded the prestigious British Contact Lens Association (BCLA) Medal. In late May 2011, he was invited to make the BCLA Medal address at the 2011 international conference in Manchester.
Speaking at the Manchester conference, Professor Willcox acknowledged the distinguished list of previous medal winners and said it was a great honour to be recognised by the BCLA. “BCLA is the leading international conference in the contact lens field, which I’ve been coming to for many years now. The remarkable contributions that previous BCLA Medallists have made to the field over long careers, indicates what a significant honour it is to be awarded the medal and I’m humbled to be placed in their company.”
“It is particularly special to be returning to Manchester, where I completed my PhD, to deliver the BCLA Medal address.” Previous recipients of the BCLA Medal include Brien Holden, Desmond Fonn, Charles McMonnies, Debbie Sweeney and Richard Hill.
Professor Wilcox’s achievements have been acknowledged previously through awards from the Cornea and Contact Lens Research Unit at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and from the University of Houston College of Optometry in the US. In 2008, he was elected a Fellow of the British Contact Lens Association (FBCLA). He is Professor at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, UNSW, and Deputy CEO of Vision CRC, where he also leads the Ocular Comfort Program.