Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

NZ-NEC events


Hutokshi Chinoy

Hutokshi Chinoy

NZ-NEC Chief Administrator
Department of Ophthalmology
Phone +64 9 373 7599 ext 86712 

Sue Raynel

Sue Raynel

NZ-NEC Research and Development Manager
Department of Ophthalmology
Phone +64 9 373 7599 ext 86337 

2019 NZ-NEC Seminar Series



The 2019 NZ-NEC Seminar Series is kindly sponsored by Optimed New Zealand.


The Inflammasome Pathway in Ocular Disease — Translating Ocular Therapeutics - Professor Colin Green, Department of Ophthalmology.

The inflammasome was first described in only 2002 yet it is fundamental to the innate immune system and is implicated in major chronic diseases throughout the body. The pathway is activated by ATP release through connexin hemichannels. This seminar will tell the story of connexin therapeutics we have developed, how our understanding of their mode of action has evolved, the building of an extensive patent portfolio, and commercial progress. One of them, topically applied Nexagon®, is about to enter final trials for front of the eye indications, and another, orally available Xiflam, is expected to enter Phase II clinical trials in 2020 for macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Two peptides provide a further level of intervention for acute injury. Whilst our focus is ocular, these drugs are the most advanced anywhere for regulation of the inflammasome placing New Zealand discoveries at the forefront of chronic disease treatment.

Wednesday 20 November, 12-1pm
Conference Room, Domain Lodge, 1 Boyle Crescent.


The Subcellular Localisation of AQP5: Is it Regulated by Zonular Tension and/or the Activation of TRPV1 and 4 Ion Channels? - Nandini Bavana, Masters Student School of Optometry and Vision Science.

Previous results from the Molecular Vision Laboratory have shown that the removal of water from the lens actively controls its optical properties. Using immunolabeling and functional studies we have found that the subcellular localisation of AQP5, and therefore the water permeability of lens fibre cells, has been shown to alter in the rodent lens by organ culturing. In the present study I investigate whether the subcellular localisation of AQP5 is altered by changes to the tension applied to the lens via the zonules, or through the activation of the mechanosensitive channels TRPV1 and TRPV4 that dynamically regulate lens water transport. I found that changes in zonular tension can alter the water permeability of fibre cells to modulate water influx and efflux at the poles and equator of the lens, respectively.

mTBI - Alice Cade, Doctoral Student School of Optometry and Vision Science.

How does mTBI affect eye movement, and does dysfunctional spinal proprioception impact eye movement after mTBI? Building a battery of computerised eye-tracking test to investigate these questions.

Presented on 21 September.


Preparing the Healthcare Workforce to Deliver the Digital Future — The Good, The Bad And The Ugly - Dr Eshan Vaghefi, Senior Lecturer School of Optometry and Vision Science.

Artificial intelligence (Al) has been revolutionising the health care, especially Optometry and Ophthalmology. In this talk Ehsan will review the latest advances of ophthalmic Al, his group's contribution to this field, and finally a brief discussion around ethical Al

Presented on 18 September.


Blinded by the light: the role of miRNA in light induced retinal degenerations - Dr Riccardo Natoli, The Australian National University, Canberra.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in the western world, affecting ~200 million people globally with an expected prevalence of ~288 million by 2040. Unless treatments are found to slow the progression of these diseases, 1 in 7 of us over the age of 50 will be affected by degeneration of our central vision, leading in many cases to irreparable blindness. In this seminar Dr. Riccardo Natoli (The Australian National University, Canberra) will discuss his laboratory's work on retinal microRNA (miRNA), the master regulators of gene transcription, and how by understanding their role in retinal degenerations we might develop novel therapeutics and diagnostics for treating retinal diseases such as AMD.

Presented on 22 August.


Investigating the use of umbilical cord stem cells in regenerating cornea - Anannya Parvathi, Doctoral Student, Department of Ophthalmology.

Cell-based therapies for corneal repair have extensively focused on using adult stem cells. We are investigating the use of umbilical cord stem cells, which are much "younger" than the fully developed adult stem cells in treating ocular surface disorders. To date we have processed 12 sheep cord samples and adapted the protocols to isolate five different stem cell types. Preliminary characterization of these cells suggest that the mesenchymal stem cells derived from both Wharton's jelly and cord blood could be used to differentiate into keratocytes.

Biochemical and neurochemical changes in early stages of diabetic retinopathy - Gagan Shivashankar, Doctoral Student, School of Vision Science.

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is one of the most common ocular complication of diabetes mellitus, which eventually leads to vision impairment. Emerging evidence suggests that inflammation plays a vital role in the development of DR. Thus, the main aim of my PhD research is to understand the early metabolic changes occulting in the diabetic retina in the presence of inflammation. In this talk, I will present results that highlight significant biochemical changes exist in retinal explants co-exposed to high glucose and pro-inflammatory cytokines. Changes in key retinal energy metabolites such as glucose, lactate, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), glutamate and altered amino acid distribution were observed, which suggest a loss of neuron-glia metabolic equilibrium and activation of the inflammasome pathway. Furthermore, these results emphasize the need to investigate whether preventing inflammation in diabetic patients reduces DR development and progression.

Presented on 19 August.


Differences in peripheral vision and eye movements in people with hearing loss - Professor Steven Dakin, Head of School of Optometry and Vision Science.

Does loss of hearing lead to changes in vision? The strongest evidence that it does reports that hearing loss can improve performance of tasks requiring the use of peripheral vision. We measured crowding — the deleterious effect of visual clutter on object recognition — of peripherally presented letters, in people with and without acquired hearing loss. We find that people with hearing loss are indeed less prone to crowding than controls but, having analysed eye tracking data, we cannot rule out that this performance results from poorer fixation compliance.

A Digital Cover Test: Automated assessment of ocular deviations using a consumer-grade eye-tracker and 3D display - Dr Tina Gao, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Optometry and Vision Science.

The cover test is the current clinical gold standard for detecting strabismus and measuring ocular deviations. Administration of cover tests require skilled clinicians and considerable time, and results are variable between examiners. We combined consumer-grade eye-tracking and 3D display technology to develop a "digital cover test", which involves a few minutes of eye tracking while viewing a sequence of dichoptic targets. Results so far show that the digital cover test can provide an automated, accurate, and objective assessment of eye alignment and comitancy. This type of rapid digital assessment may be useful in future clinical settings, such as for repeated measurements or in children

Using eye movements to infer social attention in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) - Dr Lisa Hamm, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Optometry and Vision Science.

A key diagnostic criterion of ASD is a deficit in social interaction. Social interaction is difficult to measure, especially if children also have limited verbal communication skills Tracking where children are looking provides useful insight about their social attention. We asked children to watch short clips from 3 movies —two with human characters and one with cartoon animals — while we recorded their eye movements with a. consumer-grade eye tracker. From the eye-tracking data, we assessed whether children with ASD looked at the character's faces less than typically developing children. We found that they did, but only for human faces. In a follow up pilot study, we found that we could promote engagement with social targets by subtly cuing them.

Presented on 24 July.


The xCT knockout mouse: early signs of ageing in the lens - Dr Renita Martis, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Molecular Vision Laboratory.

The main interest of our research group is to understand the molecular pathways involved in the ageing process in the eye. We have established an animal model of accelerated ageing, the xCT knockout mouse, which lacks the cystine/glutamate antiporter. We have used this model to study aspects of redox balance and antioxidant homeostasis in the different tissues of the eye. In this talk, I will examine the effects of loss of xCT on the lens using a combination of in vivo and in vitro approaches. I will also highlight the main roles of xCT and uncover the underlying mechanisms that lead to the early onset of age-related changes in the lens.

Improved Demodex diagnosis in the clinical setting using a novel in situ technique - Dr Alex Muntz, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Ophthalmology.

We compared existing and novel diagnostic techniques for confirming ocular Demodex infestation, with the aim to recommend the optimum for routine use by clinicians. Fifteen participants previously diagnosed with Demodex subsequently underwent diagnosis using five established and newly proposed tests, either in situ, by biomicroscopy or confocal microscopy, or ex vivo, using eyelash epilation and bright-field microscopy. The highest numbers of Demodex were identified by laterally tensioning the eyelash using fine-point forceps and observation using biomicroscopy at 40x magnification (4.0±1.2 mites/eyelash), versus all other methods (all p<0.002). A novel clinical diagnosis and grading technique for Demodex is described, revealing high numbers of mites. The method requires simple tools, causes no patient discomfort and is convenient, fast and clinically applicable, offering an attractive alternative to established diagnosis methods.

Presented on 24 June.


Age related eye diseases: the role of the lens - Professor Paul Donaldson, Head of School of Medical Science, along with Dr Julie Lim, Dr Gus Grey and Dr Ehsan Vaghefi.

The Molecular Vision Laboratory in collaboration with clinical colleagues form the New Zealand National Eye Centre have applied for an HRC programme grant.

This seminar will provide an overview of the four inter-related projects with each named investigator presenting the preliminary data that forms the basis for each of these projects. There will be a chance for discussion following the seminar to see how we can start moving these projects forward.

Presented on 15 May.


Hoki Fish Lens Crystallins as Ocular Therapeutic Carriers - Judith Glasson, Research Assistant, Department of Ophthalmology.

We have been exploring Hoki fish lens protein thin films as an alternate cell carrier to human amniotic membrane for the expansion of limbal stem cells. Amnion suffers from potential disease particle transmission, variable properties and low mechanical strength. Film characterisation has been undertaken with human limbal explants and primary corneal epithelial cell lines, visualised with light microscopy, L1VE/DEAD assays and immunohistochemistiy. Gene expression levels were evaluated with droplet digital PCR, and the mechanical properties assessed. Results have shown that films support adherent and proliferative cell populations, with optical and mechanical properties superior to amnion. PCR analysis confirms maintenance of stem cell markers on the surface, and cultured cells have successfully transferred from our material to decellularised corneal buttons.

Intra and Inter-Session Repeatability and Inter-Device Agreement of Biometry Measurements using the Lenstar, Revo OCT, and Pentacam AXL - Joe Wei, Medical Elective Student, Department of Ophthalmology.

Measuring biometry/axial length reliably and with a high level of repeatability is vital when undertaking myopia control management. Several different devices that measure biometry/axial length are commercially available, however, the literature on how repeatable these devices are, within and between sessions/patient encounters, and if measurements form different devices are comparable, is incomplete. The aim of this study was to assess the intra and inter-Session repeatability and inter-device agreement of biometry/axial length measurements using the Lenstar, Revo OCT and Pentacam AXL.

Evaluating Vitreous Humour Viscoelasticity Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Wilson Pan, PhD Student (School of Visual Sciences) and Dr Sachin Thakur (Department of Ophthalmology).

Liquefaction of the vitreous humour is implicated as a risk factor in many posterior eye pathologies. Knowledge of vitreous breakdown may serve as a valuable tool in monitoring patient prognosis. In this study, we present a non-invasive protocol to evaluate the viscous and diffusive properties of hydrogels such as the vitreous humour using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We demonstrate an initial calibration experiment, which shows that hydrogel viscosity is closely linked to its T2 relaxation time — a tissue specific parameter under magnetic field. From here, we show how porcine vitreous viscosity can be non-invasively predicted using our calibration curve.

Presented on 1 April.


Making the Complex Simple: A Comprehensive Approach to Dry Eye Mastery - Dr Art Epstein Director of Clinical Research, Phoenix Eye Centre, Arizona.

Dry eye is among the most overcomplicated diseases in eye care. This lecture presents a simple holistic approach to diagnosing and managing dry eye, developed over years of practice into dry eye and ocular surface diseases in one of the driest places on earth - Phoenix Arizona. Clinically focussed, this lecture will provide the foundation and specific direction for developing a successful dry eye practice.

Arthur B. Epstein, OD, FAAO is a native New Yorker who grew up in the Bronx, NYC. He received an O.D. degree from the State University of New York, State College of Optometry were he also was the college's first resident in ocular disease. After relocating to Phoenix, Dr. Epstein co-founded Phoenix Eye Care, PLLC. He heads the practice's Dry Eye - Ocular Surface Disease Center - The Dry Eye Center of Arizona, and serves as its Director of Clinical Research.

Active in the profession, Dr. Epstein is a fellow of the American Academy of Optometry and is a Distinguished Practitioner of the National Academies of Practice. He is a Diplomate of the American Board of Certification in Medical Optometry, a member of the American and Arizona Optometric Associations and Past-Chair of the AOA Contact Lens & Cornea Section notable for his leadership during the global Fusarium outbreak.

Dr. Epstein is a prolific author who has published many hundreds of articles, scientific papers and book chapters. He is a Contributing Editor for Review of Optometry and Executive Editor of Review of Cornea and Contact Lenses. He founded, and serves as Chief Medical Editor of Optometric Physicians", the first and most widely read E-Journal in eyecare. Dr. Epstein is a reviewer for numerous clinical and scientific journals. He also provides advice for dry eye sufferers on All About Vision's "Ask the Dry Eye Doctor" and "Ask the Doctor About Keratoconus" segments.

A sought after speaker, Dr. Epstein has presented more than a 1,250 invited lectures on a variety of topics nationally and in more than 50 countries across the globe. During his travels, Dr. Epstein has served as an ambassador for US Optometry visiting Optometric organizations, schools and colleagues throughout the world.

Presented on 11 March.