I am interested in developing novel innovative diagnostic and treatment strategies for neurodegenerative diseases using microRNA and extracellular vesicles. My main disease focus is retinal degenerations, specifically the number one cause of blindness in the western world Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). AMD prevalence is accelerating in our ageing population. With treatment and early detection options severely lacking, it is estimated that by 2030 1.7 million Australians, and 300 million people worldwide will lose their vision because of this debilitating disease. My ground-breaking work using microRNA and extracellular vesicles to understand and treat this disease is funded by competitive funding agencies (including multiple NHMRC Ideas and Project Grants), industry partnerships, philanthropic funding and a prestigious ANU Translational Fellowship (2019-2021); all contributing to achieving my focus to address this major global health issue.
I am passionate about community engagement, education, and leadership, which inspired me to take a unique approach to nurturing the next generation of vision researchers and science communicators. My philosophy for research leadership and engagement is a bottom-up approach where supporting an individual’s educational aspirations drives research success. In 2017, I established my research group Clear Vision Research (www.clearvisionresearch.com) at JCSMR and ANUMS to provide a framework for supporting this philosophy and to provide pathways for the community to engage in our research. This initiative ensures that students and staff in my research lab participate in driving our research goals, gain direct exposure to the people impacted by AMD, and understand the critical need for science outreach. I consider research-led education to be integral to a researcher’s career. As such, I am a dedicated lecturer in genetics and cell biology in the ANUMS. I have chaired or co-chaired 8 graduated PhD students who have either gone to positions or been offered roles at the National Eye Institute (NIH), Berkley, Harvard, University of Melbourne, University of Sydney and University of Queensland. I currently have 4 postdocs, 2 PhD students (one finishing in 2021) and one honours students in the lab and have supervised numerous Honours, Masters and ANUMS Research Projects students. I am also currently the co-chair of the ANUMS research committee, helping frame the future of medical research at the ANU.
I am active in the international retinal research community. In 2018, I received a University of Wisconsin (USA), Madison McPherson Eye Research Institute Scholarship, allowing me to present at America Association of Vision Sciences (ARVO) and at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 2019 I received a Tall Poppy Award in recognition of my scientific excellence and achievements in the fields of vision sciences. I am currently a section chair of the International Society for Eye Research (ISER) 2022 conference, bringing together a symposia of over 60 international and national researchers presenting across 12 symposia sessions. Through Clear Vision Research I developed a school outreach program called the ‘Young Visionaries’ to promote the importance of science to school children and educate parents and teachers on the importance of eye health. I have had repeated invitations to present to Retina Australia and The Blind Society and am actively involved in science public events such as National Science Week, Science in ACTion and National Science Youth Forum. I have featured in national and local media both for my research on AMD and for my promotion of the importance of donating one’s body to medical research. My research has been featured on National Nine News, Win Local News, and SBSs The Feed, as well as ABC Radio, Radio National and various print and online media.
- Jiao, H., Rutar, M., Fernando, N., Yednock, T., Sankaranarayanan, Aggio-Bruce, R., Provis, J., Natoli, R. Subretinal macrophages produce classical complement activator C1q leading to the progression of focal retinal degeneration. Mol. Neurodegener., 2018. 13, 45.
- Chu-Tan, J.A., Rutar, M., Saxena, K., Aggio-Bruce, R., Essex, R.W., Valter, K., Jiao, H., Fernando, N., Wooff, Y., Madigan, M.C., Provis, J., Natoli, R. MicroRNA-124 dysregulation is associated with retinal inflammation and photoreceptor death in the degenerating retina. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci., 2018. 59(10) p. 4094-4105.
- Natoli, R., E. Mason, H. Jiao, A. Chuah, H. Patel, N. Fernando, K. Valter, C.A. Wells, J. Provis, and M. Rutar, Dynamic Interplay of Innate and Adaptive Immunity During Sterile Retinal Inflammation: Insights From the Transcriptome. Front Immunol, 2018. 9: p. 1666.
- Natoli, R.*, N. Fernando*, T. Dahlenburg*, H. Jiao, R. Aggio-Bruce, N.L. Barnett, J.M. Chao de la Barca, G. Tcherkez, P. Reynier, J. Fang, J.A. Chu-Tan, K. Valter, J. Provis, and M. Rutar, Obesity-induced metabolic disturbance drives oxidative stress and complement activation in the retinal environment. Mol Vis, 2018. 24: p. 201-217.
- Natoli, R. and N. Fernando, MicroRNA as Therapeutics for Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Adv Exp Med Biol, 2018. 1074: p. 37-43
- Lu, Y.Z., N. Fernando, R. Natoli, M. Madigan, and K. Valter, 670nm light treatment following retinal injury modulates Muller cell gliosis: Evidence from in vivo and in vitro stress models. Exp Eye Res, 2018. 169: p. 1-12.
- Fernando, N., R. Natoli, T. Racic, Y. Wooff, J. Provis, and K. Valter, The use of the vaccinia virus complement control protein (VCP) in the rat retina. PLoS One, 2018. 13(3): p. e0193740.
- Natoli, R, Fernando, N, Madigan, M et al 2017, 'Microglia-derived IL-1Î² promotes chemokine expression by Muller cells and RPE in focal retinal degeneration', Molecular Neurodegeneration, vol. 12, pp. 1-11pp.