Professor Susan Downes, Clinical Research Lead

Susan Downes MD, FRCOphth is a Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon and Senior Research Fellow at the Nuffield Laboratory of Clinical Ophthalmology, and Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer in Ophthalmology, University of Oxford. She is the Clinical Network Lead for Ophthalmology research in the Thames Valley and Clinical research Lead for Ophthalmology in the new Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute (SCNi).  Her research areas are primarily focused on inherited retinal degeneration and phenotype genotype correlation as well as treatment of age related macular degeneration and central serous chorioretinopathy and sleep studies in ocular disease, and has collaborative links worldwide in these fields with research and training.

Professor Robert MacLaren, Professor of Ophthalmology

Robert MacLaren DPhil FRCS FRCOphth FACS FMedSci, is a Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at the Oxford Eye Hospital and an Honorary Consultant at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. He is also Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Merton College, where he teaches undergraduate medical students. His main research area is to develop new treatments for retinal disease, primarily using gene therapy, but also with electronic retinal implants in collaboration with the German engineering firm, Retina Implant AG. Within the University he heads a team of 16 scientists in the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology where the main focus of his work is to develop gene therapy using adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors and gene editing (CRISPR). He also trains clinical research fellows and surgeons from all over the world. He is the scientific founder of Nightstar Therapeutics, an international retinal gene therapy company that is now running clinical trials in 11 countries. In 2016 he performed the world’s first robotic eye operation in Oxford in collaboration with the Dutch engineering firm Preceyes BV and further trials of the robot supported by the ERGO team are currently ongoing.

Alexina Fantato, Clinical Research Manager

Alexina is a dedicated Senior Nurse who enjoys the challenge of working within a multidisciplinary team.  An experienced leader, motivated to set up and manage all levels of research projects ensuring each one is ethically approved, supported by contracts, finance and co-ordinated  by qualified staff.  Alexina is driven to build upon her own research experience as a Principal Investigator for a clinical trial of a device based on the theory of “Geste Antagoniste” to benefit patients with Blepharospasm, a Focal Dystonia.  Following publication of the results, the device known as “PressOp” is now available for these patients across the world. Nurse training and early career development in The Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service instilled a sense of pride, commitment and discipline. Upon joining the NHS Alexina undertook Ophthalmology training at Moorfields Eye Hospital and has enjoyed career development within the speciality ever since. The active interest in research emerged 10 years ago when, as Sister in charge of Outpatients and Eye Emergency in the Oxford Eye Hospital, Alexina was offered the opportunity with Professor Susan Downes, to establish ERGO. Alexina qualified as a Nurse Counsellor in 2004, a valuable skill in Ophthalmology for those patients coming to terms with a diagnosis and especially while managing a successful nurse led service for Blepharospasm patients which is acknowledged nationally. Alexina offers bi-annual study days for Nurses and Allied Health Care Professionals entering into this field of Ophthalmic Movement Disorders.

Anna Rudenko, Research Sister

With over 20 years of NHS experience Anna began her ophthalmic career at the Countess of Chester Hospital as an Ophthalmic Technician in 1994.  Later moving to the Oxford Eye Hospital her interest in Ophthalmology gave her the aspiration to pursue her nurse training.  Qualifying in 2003, Anna continued her professional development by undertaking specialist ophthalmic training in 2006. Anna’s interest in research began in 2004, with the development and implementation of a pain assessment tool, specifically for the use in Ophthalmology.  This interest progressed into a combined role of out-patients nurse and research nurse, only the 2nd research nurse to be appointed at the Oxford Eye Hospital.  Most of Anna’s research at that time was looking at Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). All of this culminated into a full time research post in 2011, gaining a research management qualification in 2013. Now as Research Sister Anna heads up the ground breaking  Gene Therapy trials for Choroideremia & X-Linked Retinitis Pigmentosa; her vast experience supports everyone from her junior colleagues to Consultants commencing new studies and is dedicated to being part of a progressive innovative research team.

Clare Arnison-Newgass, Genetic Research Nurse

Clare qualified as a Registered General Nurse in 1992, joined the Eye Hospital in 1993 as a ward staff nurse at the old Radcliffe Infirmary and completed her Ophthalmic Nurse training in 1996. She became a Nurse Practitioner for the Cataract service in 2002 and still wears this hat for a half day/ week. She had a taste of research through co-ordinating an intraocular lens study in 2008, and in 2009 started to support Professor Downes’ Inherited Retinal Degeneration genetic research through patient recruitment in clinic. Since then she has become increasingly involved in the expanding Ophthalmic Genetic Service, both clinically and through current research, supporting patients in their clinical visits & genetic tests, and alongside multi-disciplinary colleagues to offer holistic care for patients living with visual impairment.  Genetic research includes in-house and wider studies with other centres to seek previously unknown genetic causes of retinal degenerations by comparing clinical information with gene variations, including recruitment for the Genomics England 100,000 Genomes project for Rare Diseases. She is currently undertaking her Masters in Genetics and Healthcare based at Plymouth University.

Daniel Buttress, Research Nurse

Daniel qualified as a Registered Nurse in 2005. Working for the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust, he spent the first year working on a Stroke Rehabilitation ward before spending four and a half years on a Digestive Diseases Ward where he took a course in Nursing the Acutely Ill patient. Daniel then moved into Endoscopy where along with the general clinical responsibilities, ran pre-assessment clinics and would be on an on-call rota for any Endoscopic Emergencies. Daniel undertook the Mentorship Module in 2013. He then moved  to Western Sussex Hospitals Trust to work as an Endoscopy Nurse at Worthing Hospital continuing to provide continuity and evidence based clinical care. A move to Oxfordshire and into the role of Eye Research Nurse in early 2014 demonstrates a versatility and a desire to work and learn in a totally new field of Nursing within an established Research team. Daniel has topped up his nursing diploma to a degree by completing several modules at the University of West London, including among others, an Ophthalmic Nursing Course (2017) and a Service Improvement Dissertation Module (2019). He has an article published in the International Glaucoma Association magazine and is proactive and enthusiastic about promoting the work of ERGO to a wider audience. Daniel co-ordinates several clinical trials, including Geographic Atrophy Gene Therapy, as well as laser treatments for patients with Central Serous Chorioretinopathy. He has also assisted regularly with the Genetics clinics and along with nursing colleagues, joined the COVID-19 trials team of 2020, demonstrating a willingness and ability to diversify within his Nursing role. Outside of the Research Nurse Role, Daniel works shifts for NHS Professionals across the trust to maintain an acute awareness of general nursing and maintain his clinical skills / abilities.

Janette Savage, Research Nurse

Janette is a Research Nurse, having joined the team in Sept 2015, following 20 years in Ophthalmic Nursing. Having qualified at Kidderminster General Hospital her interest in Ophthalmology began on an 30 bedded ward Ophthalmic Management experience was key during this time, as a senior staff nurse, as there were no other staff nurses in post. Moving to London Janette continued her with the Ophthalmology nursing in Moorfields Eye Hospital, where she undertook a ENB 346 Ophthalmic Nursing Course for a year, followed by another year as an Ophthalmic Staff Nurse. During this period she had the opportunity to study Tropical Diseases at the Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in London. In the early 90’s Janette moved to West Africa, as a Project Coordinator, gaining experience in tropical eye diseases in Sierra Leone and the Gambia. Finally ending up in Guinea Bissau where she set up an Eye Care Program in the south of the country. Back in England she worked on a general surgical ward until she moved to Worcester to work at the Worcester Eye Clinic. A year’s sabbatical saw her move to Oxford to study Theology and Biblical Studies, which led her to apply for a post at the Oxford Eye Hospital where she worked for 7 years gaining experience in new treatments and casualty management. In 2015 she had the honour of joining ERGO, the Ophthalmology Research Team, using her nursing and ophthalmic experience to help clinically as well as coordinating in a number of ophthalmic clinical trials.

Matias Segovia, Research Nurse

Matias gained his Nursing Degree in 2017, graduating with honours in Malaga, Spain. He began working as a District Nurse just after the end of his last year, before relocating to the UK. There he spent two years working in the Specialist Surgery Ward at the John Radcliffe Hospital, managing the care of many different patients. Working as part of a multi-disciplinary team, patients under his care included those receiving Plastics, ENT, Maxillo-Facial and Ophthalmic treatment. During this time, Matias focused his expertise in the ophthalmic field, undergoing a Post-Graduate Certificate in Advanced Patient Centred Ophthalmology Care. This led to his current position as a Research Nurse in the Eye Research Group Oxford, at the John Radcliffe Hospital. In this role Matias co-ordinates multiple clinical trials, bringing with him specialist knowledge and experience, ensuring top-quality care and positive engagement  for  his participating patients.

Sophie Marlowe, Research Coordinator

Having graduated with a first class honours degree in Biomedical Science in 2014, Sophie secured her first role in Clinical Research as Clinical Trials Assistant in a thriving neurosciences research unit at Southampton General Hospital. Here she developed her clinical trials administration skills whilst striking a good balance working with patients, and also observed multiple neurosurgery cases. To further her knowledge and experience within clinical trials she moved to Oxford, working for a clinical trial Sponsor at an allergy and asthma biopharmaceutical company. Whilst here, she realised her passion for working directly with patients and decided to move back to the hospital setting, joining ERGO in May 2016. She coordinated the multi-centre Somnus Study, which investigates the links between eye disease and circadian rhythm disorders. The study reached its global recruitment target of 3200 patients and has now moved on to the genetic testing phase. Sophie will be assisting with the upcoming Sandman Trial, the follow-on interventional trial to the Somnus Study. She is also part of the flourishing eye genetics research team, working on the UKIRD Consortium and RETGEN studies. She is coming to the end of an MSc in Genomic Medicine at Imperial College London which has enabled her to more effectively support the genetics research team and explain genomic testing to patients. Towards the end of 2017 Sophie was nominated and won an award for Exceptional Performance in Recruitment to a Non-Commercial Study at the Thames Valley Health Research Awards. She is passionate about working towards improvements in healthcare through high quality clinical research, and believes it is important to involve patients and listen to their views. 

Caroline Justice, Research Support Assistant

Caroline has 16 years experience working at the Oxford Eye Hospital with the past 5 years focusing on patients enrolled on clinical trials. She is involved in the majority of studies and is responsible for the recruiting of patients, registering visual acuity, collecting bloods as well as completing patient questionnaires. Caroline is responsible for organising ROP screening clinics at the special care baby unit and co-ordinates the weekly genetic clinics. She is an integral part of the team and has been awarded with the My NHS Hero award for her dedication and care and has also been recognised with a staff achievement award. Caroline has also recently been nominated for the 2016 Bron Award for her tireless work within clinic.

Aleena Viepadan, Gene Therapy Trial Coordinator

Aleena Viepadan joined the Eye Research Group in June 2019 as the Gene Therapy Trial Coordinator.  She graduated from Queen Mary University with Medical Genetics BSc and Stem Cell Therapy MSc from University of Nottingham. Prior to joining ERGO, Aleena started working in clinical trials for a private company as a Project Associate and gained experience coordinating multiple clinical trials worldwide. At ERGO, Aleena coordinates the Gene Therapy Trials on Retinitis Pigmentosa and Choroideremia under Prof. MacLaren working alongside Anna Rudenko and Brian McCann. She is interested in learning more about Ophthalmology and has adapted her role; training to conduct microperimetry and vector shedding. Aleena is a NIHR Research Champion, promoting research within the hospital and to patients and public.

Brian McCann, Gene Therapy Administrator

Brian joined Eye Research Team Oxford in May 2017, after completing forty two years with the Ministry of Defence, nineteen years of which were as a serving soldier in the Royal Engineers. A motivated, adaptable and professional individual, who’s character has been shaped by his time in the Army, he has most recently filled the role of a Customer Service Manager for Oxfordshire, supporting the MOD’s IT & communications provision and support department, acting as the interface between the MOD customer base and the third party IT and communication suppliers. His move to the NHS has been a complete change from anything he has experienced previously, but he is enjoying working in the highly motivated Gene Therapy team and adapting to the challenge of a completely new environment. In his newly created role, Brian provides a wide and varied range of administrative support, from assisting in the setting up of new trials, through the day to day running of the trials, providing contact with trial participants, maintaining the associated documentation and study files, and with supporting the many audits that accompany any trial.

Colm Andrews, Clinical Research Analyst

Colm joined the Eye Research Group Oxford team in July 2013, as an Ophthalmic Technician. With a background in Forensic Psychology and Astrophysics he has transferred his analytical skills to gain insight into the development of all stages of clinical trials, from conception to completion. This was recognised in 2015 when he was promoted to the role of Clinical Research Analyst: A varied role that combines research coordination with methodological set up and analysis. Colm successfully completed an MSc in Evidence Based Healthcare at the University of Oxford in 2017. His dissertation focused on the impact of ocular disease on circadian rhythm. Colm is currently working on the SANDMAN trial: A randomised placebo-controlled trial to assess the effect of melatonin on circadian sleep-wake disturbances in ocular disease. Fuelled by a belief that it is vital that the NHS has access to the most cost-effective treatment for a variety of conditions Colm is proud to contribute to high quality research within the NHS.

Laura Stacey, Research Project Administrator

Owing to a wealth of experience working in administration, Laura was employed by the Oxford Eye hospital in July 2013 to set-up and co-ordinate the intravitreal injection service for patients with diabetic maculopathy and retinal vein occlusion. Ready for a new challenge, she joined ERGO in July 2015 and provides wide-ranging administrative support to the Team. Laura’s primary focus is assisting with the set-up of new trials; however she also assists with the day to day running of trials and the maintenance of associated documents and study files as required. Laura’s problem solving abilities and strong organisational skills are well utilised in the co-ordination of a diverse range of internal and external meetings, including the prestigious annual Oxford Updates Meeting. Laura has developed an interest in finance management and is working to expand her knowledge and experience in this area.

Jonathan Brett, Research Photographer

Jonathan is a Research Photographer at the Oxford Eye Hospital where he has been based since 2004. His main area of interest include capturing high quality ophthalmic images of patients enrolled on clinical trials. He has had articles published in the British Journal of Photography and the ophthalmic images he has taken have featured on the cover of The Scientific Journal of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists 27 times, including being commissioned to produce the 30th anniversary cover. He has also been recognised for the quality of his work with 30 imaging awards both nationally and internationally including the 2016 Taylor and Francis award for an article evaluating the use of wide field imaging for documentation of choriodal naevus and the Royal Photographic Society 2017 Scientific imaging competition where he was awarded a silver medal. Recent achievements also include being awarded the Gabriel Donald Graphics Award in 2019. Jonathan is also responsible for producing graphics work for the department, including patient information leaflets, corporate logo design, medical posters and website design. He is also interested in videography, producing an explanatory guide to using an Ophthalmoscope used for Oxford University Medical School, patient information film explaining the procedure of fundus fluorescein angiography and documenting the results of retinal implant patients on location in Oxford. Recently he has explored the uses of virtual reality in healthcare and has produced a number of short films using this technology which accompanied a talk he gave at the Institute of Medical Illustrators in 2018.

Lidia Milla, Genetic Administrator & Data Assistant

Lidia joined the Eye Research Team last year. Her current role is to provide administrative support to the genetics team in obtaining results, preparing documentation for multi-disciplinary genetics meetings, liaising and coordinating with referring hospitals. She also has responsibility for
data entry for an ongoing ophthalmic audit and research project. Lidia is originally from Barcelona and she has worked over the last twenty years in training, publishing and the healthcare sector.  Her broad range of experience provides her with considerable personal and professional resources to understand and work with a range of administrative procedures. She is particularly motivated by problem-solving and complex issues that require focus and analysis.  She enjoys dealing with multiple layers of information and complexity and maintains a focus on the most cost effective solution, taking into consideration time and budget constraints.

Matt Wardle, Business Support & Research Planning Manager

Matt joined the Eye research team in 2010 and his role has developed in line with the evolution of ERGO, he has been pivotal in the expansion of the department. He currently manages the finance and IT for the team and is involved in our research register project. Matt is developing his finance skills by gaining AAT accreditation and is responsible for monitoring income and outgoing finances and ensuring all studies make financial sense. Having been involved with IT and Finance for 20 years, in different business sectors, Matt brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the role. Matt’s IT function covers support for the department as well as forward planning to implement new technologies and processes which will develop the departments services.