A meeting of the world’s finest young ophthalmic minds in early September has provided a unique opportunity to share the latest research into ocular health issues such as dry eye and myopia prevention.
The annual Postgraduate week brings together PhD students from five institutions who are engaged in research projects in countries around the world including India, China, Ghana, Singapore, and Australia. Some travel to Australia to live and study, while others complete their PhD studies from home.
During the week, which is a collaborative effort between the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of New South Wales, LV Prasad Eye Institute, Vision CRC, International Centre for Eyecare Education and Brien Holden Vision Institute, students present their research projects and receive intensive skills training.
Associate Professor Eric Papas, Director of Post Graduate Studies at the Brien Holden Vision Institute says the contributions the students are making to global eye health are significant.
the contributions the students are making to global eye health are significant
“The Brien Holden Vision Institute has specific research objectives and the students working within the Institute are contributing towards these objectives by working on specific project areas.
“What students don’t always realise is that they are the world experts in their area now – so they know more about it than anybody else, including their supervisor.
Two big areas that the Institute is researching are myopia and dry eye.
“One of the more exciting areas some students are working on is how to stop people from becoming myopic in the first place. In some parts of the world, for instance China and parts of Asia, where 70-80 percent of the population are affected, this will make a real difference,” said A/Prof. Papas.
“We also have several people working on how to prevent eye infections from happening – particularly with contact lenses. One student is researching the benefits of wearing contact lenses differently – for instance, if you take them out at a particular time of day w
hen the bacterial load might be at its highest, you break the cycle of infection.”
Another student, Edward Lum, from the School of Optometry and Vision Science is looking at the nerves on the surface of your eye. “The nerves are normally invisible but with the right imaging, you can see them. They converge – like the tip of your finger, they swirl around to a point on your cornea,” said Mr. Lum. “In the first part of my research I found that you can manipulate that pattern of nerves on the cornea to form a different pattern. Now I’m looking at the clinical implications of that finding.”
Ben Ashby is working on a new drug that causes eyes to heal more quickly, “We’re looking at a protein found in cow’s milk that causes the cornea to repair itself more readily. The potential market is contact
lens wearers, people with a foreign body in their eye and people who undergo eye surgery,” he said.
Interestingly Ben’s research stems from India where breastfeeding mothers use breast milk to heal their babies of conjunctivitis.
“Previous research into milk proteins found they did have anti-bacterial effects. I took up the research to modify the protein to find out how it could better heal the wounds,” he said.
Having worked with people in Australian Indigenous communities and developing nations through International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE), PhD student Nina Tahhan was inspired to undertake her research in the field of health economics. “I’m working to show the economic benefit of investing in spectacles programs for people in need,” she said.
“One of the barriers, particularly for Aboriginal eyecare is that there haven’t been enough statistics published in this area, so its difficult to convince government to spend money on spectacle programs rather than testing services – often they pay the optometrists to provide the testing services but then the optom goes away and the people still can’t afford the glasses.”
A/Prof. Papas says the opportunity to work with these students, and to facilitate the exchange of ideas is extremely rewarding.
“To be working in this area is fantastic – working with the students is one of the more enjoyable parts of the job – they’re so enthusiastic, its nice to see them coming through and ending up ready to go and do research on their own,” he said.