Leadership Team & Mentors

Meet the leadership team and project mentors for SPARK Melbourne

SPARK Melbourne Directors

SPARK Melbourne is co-directed by the Faculty’s Associate Dean Innovation & Enterprise Professor Darren Kelly and clinician-scientist Associate Professor Lauren Ayton, both of whom have extensive experience in research translation and commercialisation.

Professor Darren Kelly

Darren is the Associate Dean (Innovation and Enterprise, MDHS) at The University of Melbourne, the Director of Innovation and Enterprise at the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) and Director of Biomedical Research in the Department of Medicine, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, where his research expertise lies in progressing pre-clinical novel interventions and developing experimental models of cardiovascular disease. Concurrent to his role with The University of Melbourne, Darren is the CEO and Managing Director of Certa Therapeutics and Occurx, Australia, bringing over 25 years of management and research expertise in the life sciences and biotech sector. He has published over 200 manuscripts in the field of translational research and novel interventions many of which have had a direct impact on human disease. In 2015, Darren joined the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund as Venture Partner.  Darren has proven history in translational research. He was previously Founder, CEO and Director of Fibrotech Therapeutics, a company that developed orally active anti-fibrotic inhibitors to treat underlying pathological fibrosis in kidney and heart failure, which was ultimately acquired by Shire Plc for a record 75 million USD upfront including milestone payments up to 600 million USD.  Darren has a PhD in Translational Medicine from the University of Melbourne.

Associate Professor Lauren Ayton

Lauren is a Senior Research Fellow and clinician-scientist with appointments in the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences and Department of Surgery (Ophthalmology) at the University of Melbourne. Her research expertise is in retinal disease, low vision and vision restoration. In particular, Lauren has led clinical programs of a number of vision prosthesis (bionic eye) implants. She was the Clinical Team Leader of the Bionic Vision Australia consortium between 2010 and 2017, and remains a Chief Investigator on that project. She is a Chief Investigator on the Monash Vision Group cortical implant program. In 2017, A/Prof Ayton accepted a position in industry as the Director of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs for Bionic Eye Technologies, a USA startup company affiliated with Harvard and Cornell Universities. This position provided experience in FDA regulatory processes, business strategic planning and investor relations. Her expertise in medical devices spans research to commercialisation, and she is passionate about innovation in the University sector. A/Prof Ayton returned to Melbourne in 2019 to lead her own research team investigating vision restoration and rehabilitation, and is also an investigator on gene therapy and pharmaceutical clinical trials for retinal disease. In addition to her research, A/Prof Ayton is a regular science commentator, including 3RRR radio, ABC radio and other media forms.


SPARK Melbourne has a strong network of highly experienced mentors to help guide researchers with their translational journey towards commercialisation.

Meet our mentors