Top 50 philanthropic gifts – Bionics Institute

Top 50 philanthropic gifts

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The 24 channel bionic eye prototype that was implanted in three patients in 2012. The critical proof of concept research for this device was carried out at the Bionics Institute and was made possible by funding from The Ian Potter Foundation and the John T Reid Charitable Trusts.

A great gift is the vision that understands what can be achieved by taking small steps and encouraging others to follow. Celebrating the ‘Top 50’ recognises the incredible impact that philanthropy has in our society.

In 2005, the (then) Bionic Ear Institute approached The Ian Potter Foundation for $500,000 to support ‘blue sky research’ to develop a bionic eye: an implant capable of restoring reading vision to people suffering eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration, which is responsible for 48% of all blindness in Australia.

At the time this project was not yet sufficiently advanced to attract peer-reviewed research grants. Two years later, the John T Reid Charitable Trusts provided $1 million in a grant shared with our clinical colleagues from the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) to support the Bionic Eye Biocompatibility and Efficacy Feasibility Study.

The confidence of these philanthropic organisations in the project was justified when in 2009 the Bionic Eye project was awarded a $42 million federal grant from the Australian Research Council to fund the project to the stage of clinical trials within four years.

Professor Rob Shepherd, Director of the Bionics Institute, led the team in designing, building and testing this early prototype to ensure its safety and efficacy for human implantation. In a clear demonstration of what seed funding from philanthropy can achieve, Australian researchers successfully performed the first implantations of an early prototype bionic eye with 24 electrodes in 2012.

Professor Shepherd recently explained the important role of the grant.

 “Without the seed funding from The Ian Potter Foundation and the John T Reid Charitable Trusts, which led to the early proof of concept of the bionic eye at the Bionics Institute, none of this would have been possible. It was their commitment that helped us demonstrate to the federal government that the development of a bionic eye in Australia was achievable”.

Voted as one of the ‘Top 10’ gifts was the $15,000 grant from The Clive and Vera Ramaciotti Foundations (1978) that assisted Professor Graeme Clark and his team at a critical point in their pioneering research: Multi-channel Cochlear Implant – Electrical Stimulation of the Hearing Nerve.

The Top 50 Working Group is made up of: the Myer Family Company, The Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund, Pro Bono Australia, Philanthropy Australia and the Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Investment and Philanthropy at Swinburne University of Technology.

The Top 50 philanthropic gifts resulted from a public nomination process and spanned achievements from the 1800’s until today.

Visit the Top 50 website for more details.

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