By Dr Gink Yang

My name is Dr. Gink Yang (BSc, PhD), Research Fellow at the Centre for Research Australia and Honorary Fellow at University of Melbourne in Australia.

 EB researcher, Dr Gink Yang working in a lab with a microscope

Which aspect of EB research are you most interested in?

My focus is developing an EB-specific anti-scarring eyedrop for EB sufferers, especially for children suffering from EB-induced corneal scarring. The cornea is like the window to the eye, any erosion or scarring to the cornea can result in severe eye pain and impaired vision. Current clinical treatments for EB include the use of contact lenses, lubrication, and antibiotics to reduce symptoms, but do not offer a solution to prevent scarring in the cornea. Corneal scarring can cause serious deterioration to vision, and hence quality of life, for those already fighting unimaginable daily battles. This is especially difficult for the little patients, where they can’t help rubbing their eyes from all the irritations. My vision is an eyedrop that not only reduces irritation in the eye but also prevents the molecular mechanism responsible for scarring in the cornea. 


What inspired you to work in EB research?

Having worked in the field of regenerative medicine for over ten years, I am mostly interested in how we can limit the progress of EB-included scarring in the skin and eyes. My journey into EB research started when I joined Dr Zlatko Kopecki’s research team as a research assistant. Back then we were looking at how the presence of a specific protein may revolutionize the treatment for skin blistering in EB. So later, when I was given the opportunity to do a PhD on skin blistering and EB-induced skin cancer, I said YES straight away, and that was eight years ago. Now that I have graduated and started my own research team into corneal scarring, the first thing I wanted to investigate was whether we could identify a suitable protein therapy to prevent EB-induced blindness. The exciting thing is that there’s already a few protein-based therapies being investigated for ocular anti-scarring purpose around the globe. I am hopeful that we will be able to find a suitable protein very soon. 


What does funding from DEBRA mean to you?

As an Early Career Researcher, it has been rather difficult to fund this area of research as most research funding goes to the ‘big four’ noncommunicable diseases including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases. The funding from DEBRA UK means we can now make a start on setting up laboratory models to test the efficacy of various anti-scarring protein therapies for EB-induced corneal scarring specifically. The funding from DEBRA UK is therefore a huge push for my research. 


Who's on your team and what do they do to support your EB research?

EB researcher, Dr Gink Yang, standing next to a colleague

My team currently includes myself and two clinical specialists who are also very interested in ocular fibrosis. Professor Mark Daniell, Head of Cornea Unit at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, who is my mentor and supervisor, has a special interest in developing treatment options for corneal wound repair. Professor Keith Martin, managing director at Centre for Eye Research Australia, is a glaucoma specialist with a particular interest in developing new therapies to protect and restore vision in glaucoma, an ocular disease also with a high risk of scarring in the eye. These clinical specialists have a day to day understanding of what is best for patients and will guide my research towards achieving a clinically relevant goal. We are also recruiting a Master of Biomedicine student to take on the project and conduct the bench side research activities.


How do you relax when you're not working on your research?

This is probably the trickiest question! You see, I have ADHD, this means I find it very difficult to ‘relax’. To me, doing intense water sports is relaxing. I am an avid sailor, currently training to compete in the national and international J24-Class sailing regattas in my spare time. “May the wind be my instrument and the ocean my arena”.