The outstanding calibre of staff and students at the School of Optometry & Vision Science, Faculty of Medicine and Health at UNSW Sydney, has been recognised with prestigious awards presented to seven individuals: Dr Jack Phu, Dr Huy Tran, and PhD students Sidra Sarwat, Rajendra Gyawali, Binod Rayamajhee and Suki Jaiswal.
Several of the awards were from the American Academy of Optometry.
Head of School, Professor Lisa Keay said the school is delighted with the recognition.
We are also very proud of our higher degree research students… who undertake research in a wide range of disciplines
“Dr Jack Phu is alumni of UNSW and has been recognised as an outstanding clinician scientist for his work with the prestigious Borish Award. This is testimony to his achievements in the field of glaucoma and visual psychophysics,” Prof Keay said.
“We are also very proud of our higher degree research students… who undertake research in a wide range of disciplines and have featured in a number of international awards this year. Sidra Sarwat and Raj Gyawali have been awarded highly competitive Ezell Fellowships from the American Academy of Optometry Foundation and Binod Rayamajhee, the Joe and Janet Barr Early Career Cornea and Contact Lens Research Award. A recent graduate, Huy Tran PhD received the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) Developing Countries Eye Researcher Fellowship. Suki Jaiswal was awarded the Barbara Hall Fellowship from Australian Graduate Women Inc.
“These awards provide both recognition and support for talented students during their candidature and are an indicator of exceptional contributions to their chosen fields of research. As recipients of these esteemed awards, these students are now in the company of many top researchers in optometry and vision science.”
Dr Huy Tran recently graduated with a PhD from UNSW SOVS, having completed research to evaluate the effects of novel pharmaceutical interventions for myopia control in children, and to gather initial myopia progression data of Vietnamese children, which has never been reported before. Currently a practising ophthalmologist and Head of the Myopia Control Clinic, Hai Yen Vision Institute in Vietnam, he is also a lecturer in the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Medicine and Pharmacy at Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Dr Tran hopes to support the development of an optometry service in Vietnam that will support ophthalmology to increase the standard of, and access to eye care, especially in regional areas. Additionally, he hopes to build a local infrastructure for research that will open opportunities for future young ophthalmologists and optometrists.
FURTHERING DIABETES CARE
Rajendra Gyawali was named the Merton C. Flom Leadership Ezell Fellow for 2022, recognising his decade-long leadership contributions and advocacy efforts for the optometry profession and universal eye healthcare.
Coming from a middle-class family in western Nepal, Mr Gyawali told mivision that his decision to study optometry was influenced by his grandmother, who raised him and his siblings.
“She had lost both eyes due to measles in her early childhood. As a young boy, I always thought that I would do something to ‘bring her eyes back’ when I grew up. I believe that my desire to help her see things and play with us was a motivation for me to join optometry after high school.”
With a long-held interest in public health care and eye care research, Mr Gyawali’s PhD is focussed on enhancing evidence-based eye care for people with diabetes.
“Optometrists, as the major primary eyecare practitioners in Australia, provide high levels of appropriate care that align with current evidence for people with diabetes. However, there are areas that can be improved, for example, missed opportunities for dilated fundus examinations. Working with optometrists, stakeholders, and people with diabetes, we have co-designed a web application to support optometrists in reducing such gaps in appropriate care,” he said.
“This novel web application focuses on practise self-assessment, benchmarking, and peer support to meet the quality improvement and continued professional development needs. Preliminary evaluation suggests that it is highly acceptable, usable, and potentially effective in optimising diabetic eye care delivered by optometrists in Australia.”
OPTIMISING DRY EYE TREATMENT
The Bert C. & Lydia M. Corwin Ezell Fellowship, awarded to Sidra Sarwat, was established to recognise and support talented post-graduate students pursuing an advanced degree in optometric research and education.
“During my clinical experience in Pakistan, I led a research project highlighting the prevalence of ring-shaped cataract among a TNT exposed population. My research interests during this project have led me to pursue an academic and professional career,”
Ms Sarwat told mivision. Ms Sarwat’s PhD is to develop a novel bioimaging system for understanding the dynamics of the tear film.
“My project involves the application of optimised quantum dots (nanoparticles) in rabbits and monitoring the turnover of tear film using the fluorescence pattern of quantum dots. At present, available research does not aid the construction of quantum dots to optimise their shape for specific optical fluorescence properties. This project involves the synthesis of quantum dots, the characterisation of their fluorescence patterns, and understanding of their performance in an animal model.”
Suki Jaiswal’s PhD, which is also focussed on dry eye disease, was inspired by Black Summer – the devastating season of bushfires that swept through New South Wales during the summer of 2019 and 2020.
“I was working in Sydney city and had many patients come in complaining of irritated eyes and even particles (soot pieces) lodged in the cornea. An unexpectedly high number of contact lens wearers had conjunctivitis. This prompted me to review the literature for what we know about how smoke can affect eyes and I found there was little available on this topic.”
Ms Jaiswal explained that fires like those of the Black Summer – more aptly named megafires – release large amounts of air pollution particles and gases into the air, exposing near-by and distant regions to toxic air quality for weeks.
“Similar to airways, the ocular surface is exposed to the ambient air and vulnerable when air quality is toxic,” she said.
The Barbara Hall Fellowship from Australian Graduate Women will enable Ms Jaiswal to pursue research at the newly established Pyrotron at the Fire Centre, University of Tasmania.
“The Pyrotron is a controlled room-like environment where experiments requiring smoke exposure can be conducted, including on humans. My work will develop prototype systems in the Pyrotron for experiments requiring smoke exposure to human eyes, which are difficult to conduct in any other setting.
“I hope my research can guide public health messaging on how to protect eyes from smoke exposure and provide evidence for health care professionals on how to treat smoke induced ocular surface disease. This is urgently needed because megafires are occurring at least annually in either the Northern or Southern hemisphere,” she concluded. Ms Jaiswal is recruiting optometry practices, which were open during Black Summer, for her research. Contact: [email protected].
PhD candidate Binod Rayamajhee’s study is designed to identify bacterial and fungal microbiome composition of Acanthamoeba strains recovered from clinical and environmental resources, which is crucial to gauge their role in ocular infection severity.
“I believe that my study will help in better understanding the complex paradigms of Acanthamoeba-bacteria symbioses in severe corneal infection, and will also help in Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) treatment,” he explained.
He said recent spikes of AK cases inspired him to work on corneal infection for his PhD project.
“AK infection is complex and delays in diagnosis due to its masquerading clinical presentations are associated with worse outcomes, including permanent visual impairment. My study will provide valuable information, from animal model experiments, on whether the intracellular microbes of Acanthamoeba contribute to the severity of corneal infection as a superinfection. It will also help to determine whether combination treatments that aim to kill both the intracellular bacteria and Acanthamoeba result in better clinical outcomes.”
Additionally, he said his study aims to provide fundamental information on the role of intracellular bacteria during AK, and insights into developing better therapeutics against AK to improve quality of life, especially among contact lens users.
mivision congratulates these exceptional award recipients.