A new survey by Associate Professor Guishang Liu, Principal Investigator and Director of the Genetic Engineering Research Unit at the Australian Eye Research Centre, aims to understand what people know about genetic technology.
His team is interested in understanding the factors that influence people’s current and future gene therapy in order to inform the scientific community how to communicate about future treatments.
“It’s a bit unusual for laboratory scientists to do this type of research – what we usually do is focus on understanding the biology of human cells,” Associate Professor Liu said.
“But now that we are introducing new technologies into therapy, we need to understand how well the public understands these technologies and how they feel about them so that we can consider introducing and integrating them into our healthcare system.”
Genetic technologies are opening the door to new treatments for diseases previously thought to be incurable.
Several gene therapies are already available for patients, but emerging technologies could change the way future treatments are developed.
Understanding how the public perceives and understands these technologies is critical to their future development.
“In the past 10 years, with the help of gene technology, traditional gene therapy has made great progress, especially in eye care, but the public is not interested in using gene technology to prevent, treat and even diagnose diseases,” said Associate Professor Liu.
His current research focuses on the use of genetic technology to develop treatments for a range of inherited retinal diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa and Usher syndrome.
In both cases, a person is born with a defective gene — an instruction that tells cells how to behave — which can lead to blindness.
“Gene technology is a cutting-edge approach that may change the way we manage these diseases in the near future,” Associate Professor Liu said.
“New therapies are being developed to repair defective genes, or replace them with effective genes, to maintain cell function. We want to have a clearer picture of what the public knows and how they feel.”
The new therapy also has the potential to treat other common eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.
A previous survey at CERA explored how people with inherited eye conditions view genetic testing in order to incorporate their lived experiences into future research.
The new survey, now open to Australian residents aged 18 or over, seeks to understand what people know about genetic research, the factors that influence their knowledge and decision-making, and their vision for the future of healthcare based on genetic technologies.
“As these treatments move from the bench to the bedside, we want to know what people understand so we can improve the way we communicate our work,” Associate Professor Liu said.
To participate in the survey and support the work, visit the project’s information page.
CERA invites Australian residents over the age of 18 to share their views on the use of genetic technology in healthcare.
A registry that collects vital information on people with inherited retinal diseases will help advance research into the most common causes of legal blindness in Australia’s working-age population.