Inventor in Focus: Associate Professor Laura Downie

Associate Professor Laura Downie from the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences is a clinician-scientist who has gained international recognition for research excellence in ocular disease, with awards, highly cited papers, international speaking engagements and appointments to key professional bodies.

Associate Professor Laura Downie
Associate Professor Laura Downie

Laura has ​authored, or co-authored, 84 peer-reviewed ​publications, and has achieved international recognition for her research achievements, including ​receiving the prestigious 2014 Irvin M and Beatrice Borish Award and 2019 Korb-Exford Dry Eye Career Development Award from the American Academy of Optometry.

Assoc. Prof. Downie is lead inventor on two patents for tear biomarkers of eye disease. She has served as a member on national and international expert panels, including the 2017 Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society International Dry Eye Workshop II (a global initiative to develop a consensus on dry eye care practices), standards committees, industry advisory boards and community and professional committees.

Development of a novel point-of-care device to diagnose dry eye disease

Laura is leading the development of a novel point-of-care device to diagnose and subtype dry eye disease with collaborators at RMIT, called ADMiER. The ADMiER team has built a research-grade ADMiER prototype, secured a strong IP portfolio, and generated and published a clinical dataset that demonstrates proof of concept for ADMiER’s diagnostic utility.

ADMIER ADMiER involves automated analysis of the viscoelastic (stretching) properties of a small (1.5µl) tear droplet, as a marker of tear film integrity. As the first application of microfluidic extensional rheometry for ophthalmic diagnostics, ADMiER is a transformative advance over current tests and has the capacity to become the global standard-of-care for diagnosing tear film dysfunction worldwide. Translation of ADMiER into eye care practice will benefit:

  • Eye care clinicians and the healthcare system by improving practice efficiency through faster, more accurate and cost-effective patient triaging, in the most common daily task of diagnosis
  • Dry eye patients, through enhancing outcomes by supporting delivery of the right treatment to the right patient
  • Drug developers, by removing barriers to future innovation in the dry eye sector, through a regulatory-approved endpoint to assess therapeutic efficacy.

Laura was awarded the inaugural Dean’s Innovation Grant in 2018 for the ADMiER program. Laura was part of the first cohort in the SPARK program 2019 and has been selected to continue in the 2020 program. Laura has achieved key development and translation milestones as part of SPARK including an invitation to represent the Victorian node of SPARK Oceania at the SPARK pitching session in Taiwan.

Laura was successful in securing a translation-focused NHMRC Development grant in 2019 to support the development of a next stage ADMiER prototype ready for clinical validation. The team is seeking additional funding to develop the clinic-ready prototype and Laura has perfected her partnering pitch at several international meetings and with local potential investors.

Laura has been actively engaged in all aspects of the technical and commercial development of the ADMiER device, gathering insights from key opinion leaders, regulatory consultants, product design houses and seasoned entrepreneurs and investors, with a clear focus on achieving the development of a device that will greatly enhance patient care and outcomes.

When asked what advice she would give to researchers considering engaging with industry or developing their ideas for commercialisation, Assoc. Prof. Downie responded:

“I think it is vital to understand your intended market, and to ensure you are seeking to address an important, real-world problem. In the very early stages of developing our dry eye diagnostic device, we undertook a voice-of-customer analysis with eyecare clinicians to ensure that there was an appetite for our technology. We considered factors such as its required diagnostic accuracy, how it would fit into a clinical workflow, the target product profile and the intended price-point. In doing this, we sought to make sure that we remained focussed on translating a technology that would deliver on the requirements that were essential to our end users.”