The Professor Frank Billson Research Scholarship

About the Professor Frank Billson Research Scholarship

Established by Shelley Kline, the Professor Frank Billson Research Scholarship provides funding for a staff member within The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) Ophthalmology Department to assist with research activities that aim to improve the care provided to patients living with eye conditions.

This scholarship honours the significant legacy Professor Frank Billson AO made over five decades, developing an international reputation of excellence in ophthalmology for the RCH, and delivering life-changing care for children and young people.

Professor Frank Billson AO has a long and distinguished career in ophthalmology which began in Melbourne. He has long standing ties with the RCH and was the Director of the Ophthalmology Department for seven years in the 1960s. The idea of early intervention and the benefits that early diagnosis and treatment could offer for children and their families was a major interest. During his time at the RCH, the hospital’s expertise in paediatric ophthalmology became internationally recognised.

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Professor Frank Billson AO

Professor Frank Billson AO at the RCH circa 1973. Photo courtesy of RCH Archives.

About Shelley Kline

When you first meet Shelley Kline, her incredible glasses immediately stand out. Forming a key part of her stylish and bold identity, her eyesight is something she’s immensely grateful for, and she is committed to empowering children with eye conditions just like her.

Shelley was eight years old when she was diagnosed with Uveitis. Uveitis is a term used to describe a broad number of inflammatory diseases that produce swelling and redness within the eye, and ultimately destroys eye tissue. Uveitis can lead to scarring and permanent vision loss.

It was shortly following her diagnosis that Shelley was introduced to Prof Billson, or ‘Prof’ as she fondly refers to him, as he was one of the only specialists in Australia with expertise on Uveitis.

“Prof Frank Billson has had such a profound impact on my life. He was a brilliant doctor; he always had such a good way of presenting the information and allowing me to make my own decisions with regards to my health,” said Shelley.

“The reason I wanted to create this scholarship is to honour Professor Billson’s contribution to the world of ophthalmology. I feel blessed to have been his patient for almost 40 years, where I received endless hours of his precious time. He also taught me one of the most invaluable lessons which is never to allow my medical condition to define me.”

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Shelley as a young girl

Shelley introducing her family to Professor Frank Billson AO

The impact of the Professor Frank Billson Research Scholarship

Jon Ruddle

“I am honoured to have this scholarship provide funding to this project. Not only am I incredibly passionate about making a difference in the lives of children and young people, I am also passionate about seeing the Ophthalmology Department at the RCH thrive and reach its potential with research.”

Thanks to funding from the Professor Frank Billson Research Scholarship, Jon Ruddle, an ophthalmologist  at the RCH, has been able to further explore his area of passion, seeing if genetic testing can alter the management of infantile nystagmus. Infantile nystagmus is an early childhood condition where the eyes don’t develop steady fixation on a target and instead, involuntarily wobble to and fro. For many children, it is a relatively benign condition, and patients are able to thrive. However, there is a small portion of children who present with infantile nystagmus that have another underlying eye condition, like albinism, foveal hypoplasia or childhood retinal dystrophies.
Learn more about Jon’s work.

Dr Sandra Stafferi AO

“Making a change to improving children’s vision isn’t just about the people doing the research or thinking up the research questions. It’s about the people who actually enable that to happen, the donors, and it is really validating to receive funding for a research project because it tells you that somebody else thinks the work you do is important. For me, it is like the donors are part of our research team, because what we do isn’t possible without them.”

Thanks to support from the Professor Frank Billson Research Scholarship, Orthoptist Dr Sandra Staffieri AO, who is also the Retinoblastoma Care Coordinator at the RCH, is helping parents feel empowered to make the best choice for their children when faced with a retinoblastoma diagnosis. Retinoblastoma is a rare form of eye cancer, and following a diagnosis, many parents are faced with the difficult decision to either remove their child’s eye immediately, known as enucleation, or undertake other treatment options if safe to do so. Learn more about Sandra’s work.