Research Projects - Retinal Networks Laboratory

Please click for our latest projects for Vision Science HonoursMOptom research projects and undergraduate vacation projects. Note some of these projects involve collaboration with the research group at the Centre for Eye Health and research groups at the University of Melbourne and University of Auckland.

For more information on PhD or other types of projects, please contact us.

Understanding the influence of retinal degeneration on the efficacy bionic eye implants

We are currently running several collaborative research projects with the Bionic Eye group at the Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering on the role of retinal remodelling in retinal prosthesis development.

Retinal prostheses aim to restore vision to those blinded by photoreceptor dystrophies. However, the level of vision provided by present devices is poor. We are using an interdisciplinary approach incorporating electrophysiology, computational modelling and detailed immunohistochemistry to understand the factors that influence the efficacy of a retinal prosthesis both from biological and bioengineering viewpoints and develop new stimulation strategies to improve the vision quality.

Ultimately, these projects intend to provide blind retinal implant recipients with improved artificial vision which will significantly improve their quality of life.

We are currently considering:

  1. PhD projects
  2. MPhil projects
  3. Honours projects
  4. Independent learning projects (medicine)
  5. Final year optometry student projects

If you would like to discuss specific projects relating to this collaboration, please contact Dr Lisa Nivison-Smith (l.nivison-smith@unsw.edu.au) or Dr Mohit Shivdasani (m.shivdasani@unsw.edu.au)

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

Understanding retinal remodelling in retinal degenerations

Glutamate and glutamate receptors are the major path of neurotransmission in the mammalian retina. However, in retinal degenerations such as Retinitis Pigmentosa, remodelling occurs and we see aberrant expression of glutamate receptors on neurons of the inner retina. Functional remodelling occurs prior to cell death in many ocular diseases suggesting it is an underlying mechanism of the disease process and a potential point for early therapeutic intervention. Current projects on this area are investigating functional remodelling of glutamate receptors using animal models for retinal degeneration. Understanding changes in retinal circuitry is essential for developing successful therapeutics and implants such as the bionic eye which rely on normal retinal circuitry to function. 

Ratina

Understanding retinal changes in ischaemic disease

Retinal ischaemia is a pathological process involved in a range of retinal conditions including vascular occullsions and acute angle closure glaucoma (glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide). Retinal ischaemia results from restriction of blood to the retina and leads to oxygen and glucose deprivation. However, even after blood flow is restored, cell death occurs and patients experience progressive vision loss. We are able to generate transient ischaemia in rats by elevating intraocular pressure (IOP). Current projects are using this model to characterising changes which occur short and long term in neurons and glial cells in this animal model.

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The effects of drugs in treating and accelerating retinal disease

Many retinal diseases do not have effective treatments. In turn, many systemic drugs have indirect effects on the retina. We have recently showed that sildenafil – found in drugs like Viagra can inhibit cGMP-specific phosphodiesterases present in photoreceptors and cause retinal dysfunction and activation of cell death pathways. On the other hand, other compounds such as the natural herbal supplement vinpocetine, act on cGMP phosphodiseterases and glutamate receptors but are neuroprotective for the retina against insult and injury. We are interested in understanding the effects of a range of drugs on the retina as potential treatments or accelerants of degeneration and current projects are assess the actions of these drugs in various animal models of retinal disease.

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