ERGO Team

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 Senior Nurse with extensive experience of working within a multidisciplinary team.  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. An active interest in research emerged while, as Sister in charge of Outpatients and Eye Emergency in the Oxford Eye Hospital, Alexina became Co Principal Investigator in a clinical trial for a device based on the theory of “Geste Antagoniste” to benefit patients with Blepharospasm. This device has subsequently proved beneficial and will proceed to manufacture.

Qualifying as a Nurse Counsellor has also proved to be a valuable skill in Ophthalmology for those patients coming to terms with a diagnosis.

Alexina was appointed Research Sister in 2009 with the brief to develop a nursing team and Clinical Trials Unit for the Oxford Eye Hospital. A total of 12 staff now coordinate an average of 20 clinical trials in various stages of development.

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.

Dr. Mital Shah, Clinical Research Fellow

MMital Shah.jpgital received his medical degree from the University of Nottingham. He has completed a 2 year Academic Foundation Programme at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham after which he began his ophthalmology specialisation within the Health Education Thames Valley Deanery. He joined the Eye Research Team in August 2016 and began a full time PhD at the University of Oxford from October 2016. He has an interest in retinal diseases, in particular inherited retinal dystrophies. His main research area as part of his PhD is in high resolution retinal imaging using an adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope which allows individual cells to be visualised in the human retina.

Dr Sarah Stevenson, Clinical Research Fellow
Sarah Stevenson.jpg

Sarah graduated from Swansea Medical School in 2014, and after completing her foundation training at Morriston and Singleton Hospitals, joined the ERGO team in August 2016, where she completed a 2-year clinical research fellowship. Sarah started Ophthalmology specialist training in the Wales Deanery in August 2018, and is currently undertaking a Medical Doctorate in optic nerve disorders and circadian rhythms with supervision from Professor Susan Downes at ERGO, Professor Russell Foster at the University of Oxford, in addition to supervision at Swansea University. Sarah will be continuing to work on the SANDMAN melatonin study run by ERGO on an honorary basis.

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 into the role of an 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 completed his Ophthalmic Nursing Course in 2017 and is working towards an Ophthalmic Degree. 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.

Co-Ordinating and assisting in an increasing number of diverse Ophthalmological clinical trials as well as providing clinical support to clinics and  laser treatments, Daniel continues to demonstrate a willingness and ability to diversify within his Nursing role.

Outside of the Research Nurse Role, Daniel works shifts for NHS Professionals to maintain an acute awareness of general nursing and maintain his clinical abilities.

Tessa Sewdin, Research Nurse

Tessa joined ERGO in August 2017 after completing her ‘Return to Practice’ course at Oxford Brookes University. While on placement in the Churchill Hospital, she had the opportunity to spend some time on the Oncology trial unit and that triggered her interest in the research field.

Tessa worked for the NHS for over 15 years before leaving the UK to live abroad. She qualified as a nurse in 1995 and then finished her degree in midwifery in 1999. During her career as a midwife, Tessa was involved in a clinical trial and then became part of that trial, when she was expecting twins. The whole experience really encouraged her to join the team as Gene Therapy Research Nurse.

She is currently involved in supporting the Research Sister with the Gene Therapy trials for Choroideremia and X Linked Retinitis Pigmentosa, both interventional and observational.

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.

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 has been accepted onto the MSc in Genomic Medicine at Imperial College London which will enable her to more effectively support the genetics research team.

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 12 years experience working at the Oxford Eye Hospital with the past 2 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.

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 an Ophthalmic Photographer at the Oxford Eye Hospital where he has been based since 2004. His main area of interest is capturing high quality ophthalmic images of patients enrolled in research studies. Due to the experience gained while working in clinic he also advises and sets up photographic protocols for the research studies.

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 26 times in the past 5 years. He has also been recognised for the high quality of his photographs with 21 imaging awards both nationally and internationally and was also presented the 2016 Taylor and Francis award for an article evaluating the use of wide field imaging for documentation of choriodal naevus.

Jonathan is 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.

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.