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Recently, new Senior Research Fellow William Schierding commenced work as part of the Vision Research Foundation Senior Fellowship. He is based at the Opthalmology Department at the University of Auckland and is supervised by Professor Helen Danesh-Meyer.

Dr Schierding’s research investigates telomere length and age-related eye diseases using data from the UK Biobank database. Telomeres are structures made of DNA sequences and proteins located at the end of chromosomes that protect and organise them. They play a critical role in cell fate and aging.

Telomeres shorten with each cell replication, and when they reach a critical length, the cell dies. Telomere length is heritable, and shorter telomeres are associated with aging, mortality, and some age-related diseases. Telomerase is an enzyme that can lengthen telomeres. Research is ongoing to identify variables that can preserve or lengthen telomeres and to find treatments for telomere diseases.

Dr Schierding’s research will explore the relationship between telomere length and major causes of blindness, such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract, and diabetic eye disease, using innovative big data analytical techniques and the UK Biobank. The study has the potential to enhance research and medical education and disrupt conventional approaches to healthcare.

“Loss of vision, including the development of glaucoma, can be a scary diagnosis – knowing that this is a debilitating disease with few treatment options. Earlier detection of risk factors can improve future diagnostics and power our understanding of disease pathology.”

 “My research will leverage large international genetic and clinical databases and use inexpensive, cloud-based computation to develop a tool which can show a comprehensive picture of how genetic, clinical, and environmental factors combine to increase the risk of diseases such as glaucoma. This project aims to find beneficial, cost-effective ways to screen individuals and reduce the burden on clinicians by removing some of the unknowns of diagnosis”

Dr William Schiedring

Dr Schierding is a Bioinformatician who received his Master’s degree in Genetic Epidemiology in the United States. He moved to New Zealand in 2012 and completed his PhD at the University of Auckland.

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