Research Areas

There are five main research areas in the School comprising:

1. Anterior segment and contact lenses

  • Contact lenses

This research focuses on the development of antimicrobial contact lenses and ways of controlling microbial colonisation of contact lens cases during use to prevent keratitis during lens wear. In order for the contact lens market to grow, infections that occur during wear, and comfort for the wearer must be addressed. Main national collaborators include the School of Chemistry (UNSW), Warm Contact Pty Ltd; international collaborators include the LV Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad, India. These projects also involve collaborations with international industry. (Willcox, Stapleton, Vijay, Golebiowski)

  • Ocular homeostasis, the tear film and ocular comfort

This research has focused on identification of changes in the tear film proteome and lipidome during the day, during contact lens wear and during application of therapies to improve ocular comfort. National collaborators are the Illawara Health and Medical Research Institute and Schools of Health Sciences and Chemistry, University of Wollongong, and the School of Health and Science, University of Western Sydney. This research also involves collaboration with international ophthalmic industries. (Willcox, Stapleton, Golebiowski)

  • Epidemiology of contact lens-related infection

Contact lens-related infection is a rare but severe disease and the only complication of contact lens wear to result in loss in vision. This group has established international collaborations to determine the risks of disease, health outcomes, and community costs of eye infections, visual loss and morbidity. Recent areas of interest include epidemiological studies to establish risks associated with contemporary lens wear modalities, studies of virulence characteristics of causative organisms and disease outcomes and understanding host factors in corneal infection. (Stapleton)

  • Research in Orthokeratology

Orthokeratology (OK) is a contact lens-based corneal reshaping technology for temporary correction of refractive error. This world-leading group has investigated the corneal mechanisms underlying the procedure, its safety and the use of OK to inhibit myopia progression in children. We are currently exploring the influence of OK on binocular vision. Furthermore, we are investigating the impact of corneal biomechanical properties on the stability and efficacy of OK.  (Swarbrick, Kang, Pye)

  • Biomarkers in ocular surface and other diseases

This emergent field fits with existing areas of expertise in ocular surface, which have already received funding from the ARC. Dry eye is increasingly common in the aging population, affecting 500,000 individuals in Australia. Ocular Allergy is also a very common complaint and one of the leading causes of people attending eye examinations. We are researching and developing methods to understand mechanisms of disease. The increasing prevalence of diabetes means that clinicians will be increasingly faced with the challenge of treating the complications relating to the underlying disease process. We are researching the biochemical changes in the tear film in relationship to the corneal structural changes in diabetes so as to be able to predict nerve damage earlier. The use of tears as a fluid to assess breast cancer progression and treatment has been funded by ARC Linkage applications. Collaborators include Schepens Eye Institute, Boston, St. George Hospital, Sydney and international ophthalmic industries. (Willcox, Jalbert, Golebiowski, Markoulli, Madigan, Stapleton

  • Dry Eye

Dry eye is increasingly common in the aging population, affecting 500,000 individuals in Australia. Various factors influence the occurrence of symptoms of dry eye, which are especially common in post-menopausal women and contact lens wearers. Allergy, LASIK surgery and obesity may also be relevant.  Research in these areas is being carried out to understand the mechanisms of dry eye disease, specifically through the exploration of the roles of ocular surface innervation, meibomium gland disease, neuropeptides, sex hormones and dietary supplementation in the modulation of dry eye. (Golebiowski, Stapleton, Jalbert, Markoulii, Willcox)

  • Diabetes and the Ocular Surface

Diabetes-related nerve damage affects up to 70% of people with diabetes and imposes a significant burden on them, their families and the community. Early detection is needed to prevent ulcers of the feet, amputation and reduced quality of life. Current detection methods are invasive or subjective in their nature. The goal of this research is to characterise the neuropeptide changes in the tear film that accompany corneal neuropathy so as to predict nerve damage before its onset. (Markoulli, Kim, Willcox)

  • Novel Ocular Drug Delivery Systems

This research focuses on the development of new systems to deliver therapeutic agents to the eye and associated structures. While commonly used, eye drops are a relatively inefficient means of delivery for drugs to the eye due to lack of favourable pharmacokinetic properties. Research has thus focused on alternative means of ocular drug delivery, with contact lenses as a platform for drug delivery being the main alternative investigated for feasibility, effectiveness and safety. (Hui, Willcox)

2. Glaucoma and posterior segment

  • Corneal and ocular biomechanics in glaucoma

Glaucoma is a common age related eye condition which is asymptomatic until the later stages where irreversible loss of the visual field occurs, thus timely disease diagnosis presents a major challenge. This research focuses on improved diagnosis in glaucoma and is investigating specific aspects of the behaviour of the prelaminar tissue of the optic nerve head. (Pye)

  • Role of the immune system in posterior segment disease

Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common age related eye disease resulting in a loss in central vision. The inflammatory nature of AMD has been confirmed and this research focuses on the role of the immune system, complement and the expression of a novel protein in Bruch/s membrane/choriocapillaris, in both AMD and in normal ageing. National collaborators include Prof S Krillis UNSW and Prof J Provis and Dr K Valter, ANU. (Madigan)

Similar cell biology approaches have been applied to the study of ocular tumours, collaborating with Dr RM Conway and Dr S Cherepanoff, Ophthalmology, Uni Sydney and internationally with the Leiden Medical Centre, Netherlands. (Madigan)

  • Ganglion cell structure and function relationship

Despite glaucoma being the most common form of optic nerve head (ONH) disease and a main cause for vision impairment, only little progress has been made in recent years to overcome the diagnostic dilemma of correlating structural and functional damage. In order to correlate ganglion cell loss and impact on visual field, it is imperative to have a solid understanding of their relationship. Some of our current projects are focused on the identification of suitable predictors of the ganglion cell structure/function relationship. Improved sensitivity in the associated testing paradigms should significantly drive the understanding of disease pathogenesis and result in refined diagnostic parameters for early glaucoma or other ocular diseases. (Zangerl, Kalloniatis)

  • Glaucoma management

With an aging population, the management of chronic eye disease is an increasing issue for the already stretched health system.  The Centre for Eye Health (CFEH), a joint Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and UNSW initiative is leading the way in applying state of the art  examination techniques and promoting a shared care model for eye-care in Australia. Research at the centre is focused on the analysis of current glaucoma practice characteristics, effectiveness in clinical diagnosis, referral quality, appropriate utilisation of new technologies and integration with complementary facilities and services. Ultimately, more cohesive and patient-focused service delivery will lead to improved quality of life for patients and a reduced economic burden of eye disease nationally. (Kalloniatis, Zangerl)

  • Neurochemistry of the normal and diseased retina

 This research focuses on the how retinal circuitry operates with regards to neurotransmitter release, receptor location and receptor function. This knowledge will allow development of a retinal roadmap which can be applied to retinal diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration where changes in retinal signals are known to occur but the exact details of these changes remain unknown. Previous grant support for this work comes from NHMRC grant funding and future support is sort out from NHMRC and ARC funding applications. Collaborators include the University of Melbourne, University of Auckland and University of Utah (Kalloniatis, Nivison-Smith)

3. Optics and Applied Vision Research

  • Applied Vision Research

This area has investigated the clinical examination of colour vision, developed and performed research to support the setting of occupational standards and the provision of appropriate eye and face protection. The Optics and Radiometry Laboratory performs research in the metrology of light and colour for industry applications and supports numerous Faculty projects in Materials Science and Engineering, BEES and Photovoltaics. Future research directions include the evaluation of energy efficient lamps, with the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Engineering, UNSW; evaluation of impact properties of ophthalmic lenses with the University of Waterloo, Canada; assessment and development of energy efficient light sources for good colour rendering. (Dain

  • Applied Science

Physiological optics of colour perception, acquired colour vision deficiencies, the blue light hazard (Boon, Roy, Dain, Khuu). Astigmatic vision in children and adults (Boon, Roy). Presbyopic vision and the impact of progressive addition lens manipulations on perceived self-localisation and self-motion in space and perceived attributes of space (Boon, Dain, Kim)

4. Vision Science

  • Development of the visual system

This area tackles key questions in visual development, specifically evaluating and optimising interventions in ‘lazy eye’, for example through the utilisation of games and virtual reality for the assessment or training of visual perception, or visual electrophysiology. Using these techniques, the development of specific visual functions in children in the presence and absence of ocular or systemic conditions, such as binocular anomalies, diabetes and intellectual disabilities, are investigated. Internal collaborators include the School of Mathematics and Statistics and School of Psychology and external collaborators include the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney Children’s Hospital, Occupational Therapy Department, University of Sydney, Developmental Assessment Service, St George Hospital, Kogarah, Macquarie University Computing Games Laboratory.  (Boon, Dain, Stapleton, Asper)

  • Low vision and visual rehabilitation

With the aging population in Australia, research in low vision and rehabilitation will become increasingly important and will be a key area for collaboration with the new Ocular Imaging Centre. This research area has focused on functional vision, such as the impact of luminance, contrast and colour on functional performance in the built environment, strategies to aid people with decreased central VA when driving, including the use of conditional licences and bioptic telescopic spectacles, the improvement of the referral process to optometry and allied health low vision services, the prevention of injurious and noninjurious home accidents in older people with low vision, and the extension of retinal prosthesis to individuals with retinitis pigmentosa. We have established links with community and advocacy groups in Australia to strengthen our research links including Vision2020, the Macular Disease Foundation, Vision Australia and Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. At UNSW, we are actively working with the Bionic Eye group, the UNSW Faculty of the Built Environment. Current research collaborators include the Save Sight Institute, Queensland University of Technology, the Catholic University of Daegu and the University of Alabama. (Boon, Stapleton)

  • Visual processing (planned)

This emergent field is establishing how the visual system detects global structure (i.e. the percept of a complete image) through the integration of motion and form signals. At UNSW, collaborators include the School of Psychology, the Bionic Eye group and external collaborations include University College Dublin, University of Western Australia, University of Sydney and the University of Nottingham. Two ARC Development applications are planned for 2009. (Khuu).

  • Surface and matieral perception

This research looks at how we perceptually recover information about the physical properties of objects from images (e.g., shape, colour, gloss and transparency). We also consider the roles that shadows, illumination and motion play in delivering this visual experience of real-world scenes. To this end, we employ a range of psychophysical techniques to tap into the inner perceptual workings of people’s heads. The outputs from this work have direct applications to improving technologies in machine vision and industrial processes that rely on real-time graphical simulations (Kim, Khuu)

  • Binocular vision and visual perception

This research program focuses on binocularity, its development and its relationship to visual perception and visual comfort. We seek to understand how binocular interactions function and develop, as well as to investigate clinically used tests and treatments of binocular vision problems. We are also investigating the effects of a controversial prism treatment sometimes recommended for postural problems, learning difficulties, and binocular vision disorders.

We are also broadening the scope of research to investigate binocularity in people with mild traumatic brain injury, with the hope of eventually identifying treatment recommendations. (Asper, Watt, Khuu)

  • Peripheral visual function

Visual performance varies across the visual field and optical blur has a significant impact on peripheral visual tasks. Recent studies have demonstrated the impact of peripheral blur on visual development. Thus, we are currently exploring the effect of inducing different directions and degrees of peripheral optical blur on peripheral visual performance. Furthermore, objective and subjective techniques for measuring peripheral blur are being explored. (Kang, Khuu)

5. Public Health Optometry

  •  Eye care delivery

Along with collaborators Brien Holden Vision Institute, this group is undertaking research in eye care delivery and delivering public health campaigns in many countries worldwide in accordance with the WHO initiative to eliminate avoidable blindness worldwide by 2020 (BHVI). 

  • Development of refractive error

Through the Vision Education Centre at the School, refractive error and functional vision data are collected on primary school children from the Sydney population. This data has demonstrated that the prevalence of myopia in children of the eastern suburbs in Sydney is the lowest in the western world. This educational and research initiative provides ongoing surveillance on refractive error development in this childhood population. (Junghans)

  • Utilisation of eye care in New South Wales

This project examines utilisation of eye care by the general community. The significant proportion of undiagnosed eye disease in the Australian community suggests that many of those who should are not accessing  eye care. There is a need to understand barriers to, and enablers of, access to eye care services to better utilise available services. This area has received funding from the NSW Department of Health to explore these issues in the general population in regional and urban communities and in individuals with glaucoma. (Golebiowski, Pye, Stapleton)

  • Access to eye care by asylum seeker and refugee communities in Australia

Refugees seeking asylum in Australia often have significant general and eye health problems.  However, asylum seekers are in many cases not entitled to health care under the Medicare system, and thus reliant on other non-government organisations to provide care.  A number of organisations have started schemes which facilitate provision of low-cost eye care to these groups of patients. However eye care is currently fragmented and reactive and the needs. This project seeks to explore the need for eye care and aims to examine the pathways and availability of eye care to refugees and asylum seekers in the community.  We hope that the findings of this research will help to inform future strategies for optimising eye care for these patients.  (Golebiowski, Watt, Dr Elizabeth Conroy UWS)