Alex W Hewitt

University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Publications (195)1103.12 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are an attractive source of cardiomyocytes for cardiac repair and regeneration. In this study, we aim to determine whether acute electrical stimulation of human iPSCs can promote their differentiation to cardiomyocytes. Methods . Human iPSCs were differentiated to cardiac cells by forming embryoid bodies (EBs) for 5 days. EBs were then subjected to brief electrical stimulation and plated down for 14 days. Results . In iPS(Foreskin)-2 cell line, brief electrical stimulation at 65 mV/mm or 200 mV/mm for 5 min significantly increased the percentage of beating EBs present by day 14 after plating. Acute electrical stimulation also significantly increased the cardiac gene expression of ACTC1 , TNNT2 , MYH7 , and MYL7 . However, the cardiogenic effect of electrical stimulation was not reproducible in another iPS cell line, CERA007c6. Beating EBs from control and electrically stimulated groups expressed various cardiac-specific transcription factors and contractile muscle markers. Beating EBs were also shown to cycle calcium and were responsive to the chronotropic agents, isoproterenol and carbamylcholine, in a concentration-dependent manner. Conclusions . Our results demonstrate that brief electrical stimulation can promote cardiac differentiation of human iPS cells. The cardiogenic effect of brief electrical stimulation is dependent on the cell line used.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2016 · Stem cell International
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    ABSTRACT: Table 1. Clinical Features of the 4 Epithelial Recurrent Erosion Dystrophy Families: 06NZ-TRB1, UKOGA, 15NZ-LED1, and CDTAS1
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2016 · Ophthalmology
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    ABSTRACT: Primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) is a leading cause of blindness worldwide. To identify new susceptibility loci, we performed meta-analysis on genome-wide association study (GWAS) results from eight independent studies from the United States (3,853 cases and 33,480 controls) and investigated the most significantly associated SNPs in two Australian studies (1,252 cases and 2,592 controls), three European studies (875 cases and 4,107 controls) and a Singaporean Chinese study (1,037 cases and 2,543 controls). A meta-analysis of the top SNPs identified three new associated loci: rs35934224[T] in TXNRD2 (odds ratio (OR) = 0.78, P = 4.05 × 10(-11)) encoding a mitochondrial protein required for redox homeostasis; rs7137828[T] in ATXN2 (OR = 1.17, P = 8.73 × 10(-10)); and rs2745572[A] upstream of FOXC1 (OR = 1.17, P = 1.76 × 10(-10)). Using RT-PCR and immunohistochemistry, we show TXNRD2 and ATXN2 expression in retinal ganglion cells and the optic nerve head. These results identify new pathways underlying POAG susceptibility and suggest new targets for preventative therapies.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2016 · Nature Genetics
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    ABSTRACT: Advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in the elderly, with limited therapeutic options. Here we report on a study of >12 million variants, including 163,714 directly genotyped, mostly rare, protein-altering variants. Analyzing 16,144 patients and 17,832 controls, we identify 52 independently associated common and rare variants (P < 5 [times] 10-8) distributed across 34 loci. Although wet and dry AMD subtypes exhibit predominantly shared genetics, we identify the first genetic association signal specific to wet AMD, near MMP9 (difference P value = 4.1 [times] 10-10). Very rare coding variants (frequency <0.1%) in CFH, CFI and TIMP3 suggest causal roles for these genes, as does a splice variant in SLC16A8. Our results support the hypothesis that rare coding variants can pinpoint causal genes within known genetic loci and illustrate that applying the approach systematically to detect new loci requires extremely large sample sizes.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2015 · Nature Genetics
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    ABSTRACT: Next generation sequencing of uveal melanoma (UM) samples has identified a number of recurrent oncogenic or loss-of-function mutations in key driver genes including: GNAQ, GNA11, EIF1AX, SF3B1 and BAP1. To search for additional driver mutations in this tumor type we carried out whole-genome or whole-exome sequencing of 28 tumors or primary cell lines. These samples have a low mutation burden, with a mean of 10.6 protein changing mutations per sample (range 0 to 53). As expected for these sun-shielded melanomas the mutation spectrum was not consistent with an ultraviolet radiation signature, instead, a BRCA mutation signature predominated. In addition to mutations in the known UM driver genes, we found a recurrent mutation in PLCB4 (c.G1888T, p.D630Y, NM_000933), which was validated using Sanger sequencing. The identical mutation was also found in published UM sequence data (1 of 56 tumors), supporting its role as a novel driver mutation in UM. PLCB4 p.D630Y mutations are mutually exclusive with mutations in GNA11 and GNAQ, consistent with PLCB4 being the canonical downstream target of the former gene products. Taken together these data suggest that the PLCB4 hotspot mutation is similarly a gain-of-function mutation leading to activation of the same signaling pathway, promoting UM tumorigenesis.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2015 · Oncotarget
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    ABSTRACT: We demonstrate that a combination of Noggin, Dickkopf-1, Insulin Growth Factor 1 and basic Fibroblast Growth Factor, promotes the differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells into retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells. We describe an efficient one-step approach that allows the generation of RPE cells from both human embryonic stem cells and human induced pluripotent stem cells within 40-60 days without the need for manual excision, floating aggregates or imbedded cysts. Compared to methods that rely on spontaneous differentiation, our protocol results in faster differentiation into RPE cells. This pro-retinal culture medium promotes the growth of functional RPE cells that exhibit key characteristics of the RPE including pigmentation, polygonal morphology, expression of mature RPE markers, electrophysiological membrane potential and the ability to phagocytose photoreceptor outer segments. This protocol can be adapted for feeder, feeder-free and serum-free conditions. This method thereby provides a rapid and simplified production of RPE cells for downstream applications such as disease modelling and drug screening.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2015 · Stem Cell Reviews and Reports
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    ABSTRACT: Objective: To investigate whether being anesthesia administered at least once in early life influenced 3 main proxies of visual function: visual acuity, refractive error, and optic nerve health in young adulthood. Study design: At age 20 years, participants of the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort Study had comprehensive ocular examinations including visual acuity, postcycloplegic refraction, and multiple scans of the optic disc. We identified individuals who had at least 1 procedure requiring anesthesia during the first 3 years of life (between 1990 and 1994) and compared their visual outcomes with nonexposed individuals. We excluded 40 participants with strabismus or other ophthalmic disease or surgery and 136 with non-European background. Results: Of 834 participants, 15.2% (n = 127) were exposed to anesthesia at least once before age 3 years. In both exposed and nonexposed groups, median visual acuity (measured using the logarithm of the minimum angle of resolution [LogMAR] chart) was -0.06 LogMAR in the right eye and -0.08 LogMAR in the left eye (P > .05). Median spherical equivalent refractive error was +0.44 diopters (IQR -0.25, +0.63) and +0.31 diopters (IQR -0.38, +0.63) in the exposed and nonexposed group, respectively (P = .126). No difference was detected in mean global retinal nerve fiber layer thickness of the 2 groups (100.7 vs 100.1 μm, P = .830). Conclusions: We were unable to demonstrate an association of exposure to anesthesia as a child with reduced visual acuity or increased myopia or thinning of retinal nerve fiber layer. These findings support the view that anesthesia is unlikely to impair visual development, but further work is needed to establish whether more subtle defects are present and repeated exposures have any effects.
    No preview · Article · Nov 2015 · The Journal of pediatrics
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    ABSTRACT: Primary Open Angle Glaucoma (POAG) is a common neurodegenerative disease characterized by the selective and gradual loss of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). Aging and increased intraocular pressure (IOP) are glaucoma risk factors; nevertheless patients deteriorate at all levels of IOP, implying other causative factors. Recent evidence presents mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) complex-I impairments in POAG. Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) patients suffer specific and rapid loss of RGCs, predominantly in young adult males, due to complex-I mutations in the mitochondrial genome. This study directly compares the degree of OXPHOS impairment in POAG and LHON patients, testing the hypothesis that the milder clinical disease in POAG is due to a milder complex-I impairment. To assess overall mitochondrial capacity, cells can be forced to produce ATP primarily from mitochondrial OXPHOS by switching the media carbon source to galactose. Under these conditions POAG lymphoblasts grew 1.47 times slower than controls, whilst LHON lymphoblasts demonstrated a greater degree of growth impairment (2.35 times slower). Complex-I enzyme specific activity was reduced by 18% in POAG lymphoblasts and by 29% in LHON lymphoblasts. We also assessed complex-I ATP synthesis, which was 19% decreased in POAG patients and 17% decreased in LHON patients. This study demonstrates both POAG and LHON lymphoblasts have impaired complex-I, and in the majority of aspects the functional defects in POAG were milder than LHON, which could reflect the milder disease development of POAG. This new evidence places POAG in the spectrum of mitochondrial optic neuropathies and raises the possibility for new therapeutic targets aimed at improving mitochondrial function.
    Full-text · Article · Oct 2015 · PLoS ONE
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    ABSTRACT: Myopia is the largest cause of uncorrected visual impairments globally and its recent dramatic increase in the population has made it a major public health problem. In observational studies, educational attainment has been consistently reported to be correlated to myopia. Nonetheless, correlation does not imply causation. Observational studies do not tell us if education causes myopia or if instead there are confounding factors underlying the association. In this work, we use a two-step least squares instrumental-variable (IV) approach to estimate the causal effect of education on refractive error, specifically myopia. We used the results from the educational attainment GWAS from the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium to define a polygenic risk score (PGRS) in three cohorts of late middle age and elderly Caucasian individuals (N = 5,649). In a meta-analysis of the three cohorts, using the PGRS as an IV, we estimated that each z-score increase in education (approximately 2 years of education) results in a reduction of 0.92 ± 0.29 diopters (P = 1.04 × 10(-3) ). Our estimate of the effect of education on myopia was higher (P = 0.01) than the observed estimate (0.25 ± 0.03 diopters reduction per education z-score [∼2 years] increase). This suggests that observational studies may actually underestimate the true effect. Our Mendelian Randomization (MR) analysis provides new evidence for a causal role of educational attainment on refractive error.
    No preview · Article · Oct 2015 · Genetic Epidemiology
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    ABSTRACT: Purpose Elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) is the only known modifiable risk factor for primary open angle glaucoma (POAG), and it can be caused by reduced aqueous humor outflow from the anterior chamber. Outflow is predominantly regulated by the trabecular meshwork, consisting of specialized cells within a complex extracellular matrix (ECM). An imbalance between ECM-degrading matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and the tissue inhibitors of MMPs (TIMPs) within the trabecular meshwork is thought to contribute to POAG. This study aimed to quantify levels of TIMPs and MMPs in aqueous humor samples from glaucomatous and non-glaucomatous eyes, analyze MMP/TIMP ratios, and correlate results with age, IOP, and Humphrey’s visual field pattern standard deviation (PSD). Methods Aqueous humor samples were collected from 26 non-glaucomatous control subjects before cataract surgery and 23 POAG patients undergoing trabeculectomy or cataract surgery. Analyte concentrations were measured using multiplexed immunoassays. Statistical significance was assessed with Mann–Whitney U tests, and Spearman’s method was used to assess correlations with age, IOP, and PSD. Results Concentrations of TIMP1 (p = 0.0008), TIMP2 (p = 0.002), TIMP4 (p = 0.002), and MMP2 (p = 0.020) were significantly increased in aqueous humor samples from POAG versus cataract samples. For the majority of MMP/TIMP molar ratios calculated for the cataract group, TIMPs outweighed MMPs. In POAG, molar ratios of MMP2/TIMP1 (p = 0.007) and MMP9/TIMP1 (p = 0.005) showed a significant decrease, corresponding to an elevated excess of TIMPs over MMPs in POAG compared to cataract samples. Conversely, MMP2/TIMP3 (p = 0.045) and MMP3/TIMP3 (p = 0.032) molar ratios increased. Several MMP/TIMP molar ratios correlated with IOP (r = 0.476–0.609, p = 0.007–0.034) and PSD (r = -0.482 to −0.655, p = 0.005–0.046) in POAG samples and with age in cataract control samples. Conclusions An imbalance among MMPs and TIMPs was found in glaucomatous aqueous humor samples, with a shift toward raised TIMP levels. This may result in the inhibition of MMP activity, leading to an altered ECM composition in the TM and thereby contributing to increased outflow resistance.
    Full-text · Article · Oct 2015 · Molecular vision

  • No preview · Article · Oct 2015 · Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology

  • No preview · Article · Sep 2015 · Mitochondrion
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    ABSTRACT: Myocilin (MYOC) is a well-established primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) risk gene, with rare variants known to have high penetrance. The most common clinically relevant risk variant, Gln368Ter, has an allele frequency of 0.1% to 0.3% in populations of European ancestry. Detection of rare MYOC variants has traditionally been conducted using Sanger sequencing. Here we report the use of genotyping arrays and imputation to assess whether rare variants including Gln368Ter can be reliably detected. A total of 1155 cases with advanced POAG and 1992 unscreened controls genotyped on common variant arrays participated in this study. Accuracy of imputation of Gln368Ter variants was compared with direct sequencing. A genome-wide association study was performed using additive model adjusted for sex and the first six principal components. We found that although the arrays we used were designed to tag common variants, we could reliably impute the Gln368Ter variant (rs74315329). When tested in 1155 POAG cases and 1992 controls, rs74315329 was strongly associated with risk (odds ratio = 15.53, P = 1.07 × 10-9). All POAG samples underwent full sequencing of the MYOC gene, and we found a sensitivity of 100%, specificity of 99.91%, positive predictive value of 95.65%, and negative predictive value of 100% between imputation and sequencing. Gln368Ter was also accurately imputed in a further set of 1801 individuals without POAG. Among the total set of 3793 (1992 + 1801) individuals without POAG, six were predicted (probability > 95%) to carry the risk variant. We demonstrate that some clinically important rare variants can be reliably detected using arrays and imputation. These results have important implications for the detection of clinically relevant incidental findings in ongoing and future studies using arrays.
    No preview · Article · Aug 2015 · Investigative ophthalmology & visual science
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    ABSTRACT: Diabetic retinopathy is a serious complication of diabetes mellitus and can lead to blindness. A genetic component, in addition to traditional risk factors, has been well described although strong genetic factors have not yet been identified. Here, we aimed to identify novel genetic risk factors for sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy using a genome-wide association study. Retinopathy was assessed in white Australians with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Genome-wide association analysis was conducted for comparison of cases of sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy (n = 336) with diabetic controls with no retinopathy (n = 508). Top ranking single nucleotide polymorphisms were typed in a type 2 diabetes replication cohort, a type 1 diabetes cohort and an Indian type 2 cohort. A mouse model of proliferative retinopathy was used to assess differential expression of the nearby candidate gene GRB2 by immunohistochemistry and quantitative western blot. The top ranked variant was rs3805931 with p = 2.66 × 10(-7), but no association was found in the replication cohort. Only rs9896052 (p = 6.55 × 10(-5)) was associated with sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy in both the type 2 (p = 0.035) and the type 1 (p = 0.041) replication cohorts, as well as in the Indian cohort (p = 0.016). The study-wide meta-analysis reached genome-wide significance (p = 4.15 × 10(-8)). The GRB2 gene is located downstream of this variant and a mouse model of retinopathy showed increased GRB2 expression in the retina. Genetic variation near GRB2 on chromosome 17q25.1 is associated with sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy. Several genes in this region are promising candidates and in particular GRB2 is upregulated during retinal stress and neovascularisation.
    No preview · Article · Jul 2015 · Diabetologia
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    ABSTRACT: Cardiac resident stem cells (CRSCs) hold much promise to treat heart disease but this remains a controversial field. Here we describe a novel population of CRSCs, which are positive for W8B2 antigen and were obtained from adult human atrial appendages. W8B2(+) CRSCs exhibit a spindle-shaped morphology, are clonogenic and capable of self-renewal. W8B2(+) CRSCs show high expression of mesenchymal but not hematopoietic nor endothelial markers. W8B2(+) CRSCs expressed GATA4, HAND2, and TBX5, but not C-KIT, SCA-1, NKX2.5, PDGFRα, ISL1 or WT1. W8B2(+) CRSCs can differentiate into cardiovascular lineages and secrete a range of cytokines implicated in angiogenesis, chemotaxis, inflammation, extracellular matrix remodelling, cell growth and survival. In vitro, conditioned medium collected from W8B2(+) CRSCs displayed pro-survival, pro-angiogenic and pro-migratory effects on endothelial cells, superior to that of other stem cells, and additionally promoted survival and proliferation of neonatal rat cardiomyocytes. Intramyocardial transplantation of human W8B2(+) CRSCs into immunocompromised rats one week after myocardial infarction markedly improved cardiac function (∼40% improvement in ejection fraction) and reduced fibrotic scar tissue 4 weeks after infarction. Hearts treated with W8B2(+) CRSCs showed less adverse remodelling of the left ventricle, a greater number of proliferating cardiomyocytes (Ki67(+) cTnT(+) cells) in the remote region, higher myocardial vascular density, and greater infiltration of CD163(+) cells (a marker for M2 macrophages) into the border zone and scar regions. In summary, W8B2(+) CRSCs are distinct from currently known CRSCs found in human hearts, and as such may be an ideal cell source to repair myocardial damage after infarction. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved. © 2015 AlphaMed Press.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2015 · Stem Cells
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    ABSTRACT: P values associated with null hypothesis significance testing (NHST) are almost universal in the ophthalmic literature. A p value < 0.05 is traditionally considered as 'significant'. This concept may deflect further thought about the veracity of the results. P values influence the publishability of the data, and have flow-on effects for funding success and the direction of future research. Despite their importance, the problems inherent in p values have been recognized since their inception, and in more recent years have been increasingly highlighted in some scientific fields. In this review, we aim to bring the problems associated with p values and NHST to the attention of the ophthalmic research community. We do not offer a universal solution to the problem of determining the veracity of a scientific claim; however, we demonstrate the need for caution in interpreting "significant" p values by performing a Bayesian re-analysis of t-tests in the ophthalmic literature. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    No preview · Article · Jul 2015 · Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology

  • No preview · Conference Paper · Jun 2015
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    ABSTRACT: To investigate associations between single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the VEGFC gene and the development of diabetic retinopathy (DR) in white patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) or type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). Cross-sectional, case control study. White patients with T1DM or T2DM (n = 2899) were recruited from ophthalmology and endocrine clinics in Australia and the United Kingdom. Patients with T2DM were required to have diabetes mellitus (DM) for at least 5 years and be receiving oral hypoglycemic treatment or insulin. Participants were categorized according to their worst-ever DR grading, as having "no DR" (no history of nonproliferative DR [NPDR], proliferative DR [PDR], or diabetic macular edema [DME]) or "any DR" (further subclassified as NPDR or PDR, without or with DME). Clinical characteristics, glycemic control (hemoglobin A1c [HbA1c]), and presence of diabetic complications were determined at recruitment. Genotyping was performed for 13 VEGFC tag SNPs. Odds ratios (ORs) were determined for associations with DR of VEGFC tag SNPs, individually and within haplotypes. Logistic regression was used to adjust for clinical covariates, including DM type, age, sex, DM duration, hypertension, nephropathy, HbA1c, and smoking. Participants with DM but "no DR" (n = 980) were compared with 1919 participants with DM and "any DR." Three VEGFC SNPs were associated with DR after logistic regression: rs17697419 (P = 0.001; OR, 0.67; confidence interval [CI], 0.52-0.85), rs17697515 (P = 0.001; OR, 0.62; CI, 0.47-0.81), and rs2333526 (P = 0.005; OR, 0.69; CI, 0.54-0.90). rs17697515 Was also specifically associated with DME in those with T2DM (P = 0.004; OR, 0.53; CI, 0.35-0.82). Haplotype analysis revealed 2 significantly associated haplotypes, both protective against DR development. Significant associations were found between VEGFC tag SNPs (individually and within haplotypes) and the presence of any DR or DME in white participants with T1DM and T2DM. Copyright © 2015 American Academy of Ophthalmology. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    No preview · Article · Jun 2015 · Ophthalmology
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    ABSTRACT: Keratoconus is a degenerative eye condition which results from thinning of the cornea and causes vision distortion. Treatments such as ultraviolet (UV) cross-linking have proved effective for management of keratoconus when performed in early stages of the disease. The central corneal thickness (CCT) is a highly heritable endophenotype of keratoconus, and it is estimated that up to 95% of its phenotypic variance is due to genetics. Genome-wide association efforts of CCT have identified common variants (i.e. minor allele frequency>5%). However, these studies typically ignore the large set of exonic variants whose minor allele frequency is usually low. In this study we performed a CCT exome-wide association analysis in a sample of 1029 individuals from a population-based study in Western Australia. We identified a genome-wide significant exonic variant rs121908120 (P=6.63x10(-10)) in WNT10A. This gene is 437kb from a gene previously associated with CCT (USP37). We showed in a conditional analysis that the WNT10A variant completely accounts for the signal previously seen at USP37. We replicated our finding in independent samples from the Brisbane Adolescent Twin Study, Twin Eye Study from Tasmania and the Rotterdam Study. Further, we genotyped rs121908120 in 621 keratoconus cases and compared the frequency to a sample of 1680 unscreened controls from the Queensland twin registry. We found that rs121908120 increases the risk of keratoconus two times (odds ratio 2.03, P=5.41x10(-5)). © The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com.
    No preview · Article · Jun 2015 · Human Molecular Genetics
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    ABSTRACT: MicroRNAs are now increasingly recognized as biomarkers of disease progression. Several quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) platforms have been developed to determine the relative levels of microRNAs in biological fluids. We systematically compared the detection of cellular and circulating microRNA using a standard 96-well platform, a high-content microfluidics platform and two ultra-high content platforms. We used extensive analytical tools to compute inter-and intra-run variability and concordance measured using fidelity scoring, coefficient of variation and cluster analysis. We carried out unprejudiced next generation sequencing to identify a microRNA signature for Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) and systematically assessed the validation of this signature on clinical samples using each of the above four qPCR platforms. The results indicate that sensitivity to measure low copy number microRNAs is inversely related to qPCR reaction volume and that the choice of platform for microRNA biomarker validation should be made based on the abundance of miRNAs of interest.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2015 · Scientific Reports

Publication Stats

3k Citations
1,103.12 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2006-2016
    • University of Melbourne
      • • Centre for Eye Research Australia
      • • Department of Ophthalmology
      Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • 2005-2016
    • University of Tasmania
      • • School of Medicine
      • • Menzies Research Institute
      Hobart Town, Tasmania, Australia
  • 2005-2015
    • Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital
      Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • 2012-2014
    • University of Western Australia
      • Lions Eye Institute
      Perth City, Western Australia, Australia
  • 2008-2014
    • Flinders Medical Centre
      Tarndarnya, South Australia, Australia
  • 2005-2014
    • The Royal Hobart Hospital
      Hobart Town, Tasmania, Australia
  • 2013
    • King's College London
      • Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology
      London, ENG, United Kingdom
  • 2005-2013
    • Flinders University
      • Department of Ophthalmology
      Tarndarnya, South Australia, Australia