Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

NZ-NEC events




Sue Raynel

Sue Raynel

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

Hutokshi Chinoy

Hutokshi Chinoy

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



2017 NZ-NEC Seminar Series



The 2017 NZ-NEC Seminar Series is kindly sponsored by Alcon.


The Lens - An Enigma, A Paradox, A Crystal Ball... Professor Barbara Pierscionek Associate Dean, Faculty of Science, Engineering and Computing, Kingston University, London.

The two conditions that affect the function of the eye lens are the physiological process of presbyopia and the pathological condition of cataract. Age is a major risk factor for both. As populations are ageing, the importance of understanding structural changes that lead to functional loss in the lens is ever more imperative. This lecture will outline the latest findings on the optical properties of the lens, in particular the refractive index variations and what this tells us about the lens paradox and foreseeing changes that may occur with lens growth and ageing. Structural links between proteins and optics and the enigmatic findings that a lens containing proteins of complicated structures can appear to behave like a crystal under certain conditions, will be discussed. The link between optical and mechanical properties will also be presented with viable models of the lens and accommodative system described. The findings have implications for which theory of accommodation has most relevance.

Friday 10th February 2017, 12.00 - 1.00pm.

Lecture Theatre 503-024, FMHS, Grafton.


Summer Students Symposium

19 students from Ophthalmology, Optometry, and Pharmacy will be presenting their summer project work. The format will be rapid fire with 4 minutes of presentation time and 2 minutes for questions, with prizes for the best presentations (1st, 2nd, and 3rd ).

Distinguished Professor Ian Reid, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Medical & Health Sciences and Professor Alan Merry, Head of School of Medicine have kindly agreed to judge the symposium.

Monday 21st February 2017, 5.00 - 7.00pm.

Lecture Theatre 505-011, FMHS, Grafton.


Excellence in Ophthalmology and Vision Research Evening

This event consolidates the undergraduate, postgraduate and summer studentship awards into one prize giving event. 

The following awards will be presented on the evening:

  • The  Calvin Ring Prize for the best all-round undergraduate medical student in clinical ophthalmology - Dr Charlotte Jordan
  • The William MacKenzie Medal for early excellence in eye research. This award  recognises the significant contribution made by a medical student or trainee intern towards a research project which has reached publication status during the year of the award - Jeremy John Mathan
  • The Arthur Thomas Paterson Scholarship  to a vocational trainee in Ophthalmology who holds an accredited position within the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists for the purpose of assisting in overseas postgraduate training - Dr Divya Perumal
  • Summer studentship awards: Ji Soo Kim, Sunny Li, Micah Rapata, Lize Angelo, Jovey Lim, William Cook, Darina Khun, Kenny Wu, Ye Li, Charisse Kuo, Michael Wang.

Monday 13th February 2017, 5.30 - 7.20pm.

Lecture Theatre 505-011, FMHS, Grafton.


New Biological Roles for The Lens: A Healthy Lens, A Healthy Eye? Dr Julie Lim, Department of Physiology, FMHS.

Outside the traditional roles of the lens as an important refractive element and a UV filter it was demonstrated by David Beebe's group that the lens acts an oxygen sink that protects the tissues of the anterior segment of the eye from oxygen or oxygen metabolites. In this talk we follow on from this work and present evidence from our laboratory to demonstrate two additional new roles of the lens in the release of the antioxidant glutathione (GSH) into the aqueous humor to provide a source of GSH to nearby tissues, and in the control of aqueous humor cysteine/cysteine balance to maintain a reduced ocular environment. These new secondary roles indicate that that the lens is highly dynamic and active tissue that can potentially interact and alter the functionality of neighbouring tissues, through modifying the environments in which these tissues function.

Monday 20th March 2017, 4.00 - 5.00pm.

Conference Room, Domain Lodge, 1 Boyle Crescent.


Preoperative Risk Stratification - Can We Prevent Complications in Cataract Surgery? Dr Bia Kim, Research Fellow, Department of Ophthalmology.

Cataract surgery is the most common elective surgical procedure with more than 30,000 cases performed in New Zealand. It is highly successful in restoring vision for the majority of patients but complications may occur during surgery, occasionally severe enough to cause blindness. There are already numerous patient and eye factors that have been associated with an increased risk of intraoperative complications in cataract surgery. Based on these preoperative factors, a risk stratification system was devised to score individual patients' risks. This talk will focus on the outcomes following implementation of a risk stratification system to appropriately allocate cataract cases to different levels of surgeons thereby potentially reducing complication rates and improving visual outcomes.

Optotype Design. Lisa Hamm, Research Fellow School of Optometry and Vision Science.

The ETDRS set of 10 Sloan letters is the most widely used optotype set for testing recognition acuity in research settings. For younger children, or those not familiar with the Roman alphabet, this set may not be practical. Other sets exist which are more appropriate for these observers, but they have some disadvantages. Most contain a smaller number of optotypes, have uneven stroke width and/or aspect ratios other than 1.1 Additionally, the individual items within many of these sets (including the ETDRS Sloan letter set) elicit different acuity thresholds from one another. We designed a set of 10 nameable optotypes with even stroke width, 1:1 aspect ratios, and we tested whether each optotype within the set elicited a similar acuity threshold. This talk will cover some design considerations as well as the inter-optotype variability results.

Wednesday 19th April 2017, 4.00 - 5.00pm.

Conference Room, Domain Lodge, 1 Boyle Crescent.


Contact Lenses, Dry Eye Disease, and Diabetes and the Ocular Surface. Dr Maria Markoulli, Senior Lecturer, School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney.

The purpose of this presentation is to introduce Dr Markoulli's three key areas of research: contact lenses, dry eye disease and diabetes and the ocular surface.

1.      Contact lenses: Matrix Metalloproteinases (MMPs) are collagen degrading enzymes which maintain and remodel tissue architecture by degrading the major components of the epithelial basement membrane. In excess, MMPs have been associated with recurrent corneal erosions and ulceration. As these conditions also occur in contact lens wear, this study also set out to determine how CL wear and adaptation affects the levels of MMP-9 in the tear film.

2.      Dry eye: Reliability in detecting the signs of dry eye disease is an important part of staging the severity of the disease and hence initiating appropriate treatment. Fluorescein tear break-up time is commonly used but has poor repeatability and is very subjective. In recent times two instruments have been introduced as objective means to measure NIBUT and lipid layer thickness: The Oculus® Keratograph 5M and the LipiView®, respectively. The purpose of this study is to determine the repeatability of the Oculus® Keratograph 5M and the Lipiview® in measuring the properties of the tear film in healthy people compared to the Tearscope Plus.

Diabetes: Both the cornea and the tear film are known to be affected in diabetes. Substance P is a neuropeptide present in the tear film which is released from trigeminal sensory nerve endings in the cornea, conjunctiva and lacrimal gland into the tear fihn. Substance P has a role in wound healing, but also maintains corneal integrity as it promotes migration, proliferation and differentiation of epithelial cells. In the trigeminal nerve, substance P has been found to be decreased in concentration in diabetes relative to healthy controls. Although altered corneal nerve structure in people with diabetes has been reported, the contribution of neuropeptides such as substance P in the tear film relative to diabetic corneal neuropathy has not been explored. This study therefore aims to investigate the impact of diabetes on the concentrations of substance P in the tear film relative to corneal sub-basal nerves.

Friday 28th April 2017, 12.00 - 1.00pm.

Lecture Theatre 503-028, FMHS, Grafton.


Connexins and calcium signalling as targets to mitigate inflammation-induced blood-brain barrier dysfunction. Professor Luc Leybaert, Professor of Physiology at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.

Joint Centre for Brain Research – New Zealand National Eye Centre seminar.

The blood-brain barrier (BBB) protects the cerebral tissue from circulating toxins while securing a specialized environment for neuro-glial signalling. The BBB integrity is compromised in a multitude of pathologic conditions and connexin channels ( gap junctions and hemichannels), influence signalling by propagating Ca2+ waves and contributing to [Ca2+]ioscillations. We have investigated whether interfering with connexin and [Ca2+]i signalling from the vessel side as well as the brain parenchymal side may influence a BBB permeability increase triggered in mice by peripheral inflammatory stimulation with LPS.  BBB permeability elevation in response to LPS injection was completely prevented by induced global knockdown of Cx43. Experiments with in vivo ester-loading of the Ca2+ chelator BAPTA-AM and with connexin channel blocking peptides administered intravenously to target vascular endothelial cells, strongly reduced BBB permeability elevation. Experiments were repeated by directly by applying these substances to the exposed cortex via a cranial window, to target brain parenchymal cells, in particular glial cells and this also strongly prevented the peripherally-induced BBB permeability elevation. This work indicates that targeting connexins is a potent strategy to mitigate inflammation-induced BBB dysfunction and that both a systemic and brain parenchymal approaches are effective.

Tuesday 9th May 2017, 1.00 - 2.00pm.

Lecture Theatre 503-028, FMHS, Grafton.


Gap junctions and stroke: an open and shut case? Professor Christian Naus, University of British Columbia.

Joint Centre for Brain Research – New Zealand National Eye Centre seminar.

Ischemic stroke is a leading cause of mortality and disability; recent Canadian statistics indicate that stroke is the third leading cause of death (14,000 per year) in Canada http://www.heartandstroke.com). Stroke costs the Canadian economy $3.6 billion a year in physician services, hospital costs, lost wages, and decreased productivity. Developing new approaches to therapy is critical.  A novel therapeutic avenue we have focused on relates to cellular effects mediated by gap junction proteins (connexins) which are prevalent in the astrocytes of the CNS and make unique intercellular channels and hemichannels. These channels provide a substrate for therapeutic strategies targeted to astrocytes rather than neurons, based on the premise that both cell types play critical roles in stroke recovery. It is envisioned that a therapeutic approach combining neuronal signaling pathways with astrocyte mediated events should enhance protection following stroke.

Thursday 11th May 2017, 10.30am.

Centre for Brain Research 501-505, FMHS, Grafton.


Buchanan Ocular Therapeutics Unit - What are we up to? Dr Ilya Rupenthal, Senior Lecturer, Buchanan Ocular Therapeutics Unit (BOTU), Department of Ophthalmology

It has been over three years since the inauguration of the Buchanan Ocular Therapeutics Unit (BOTU) in 2013 and the team has substantially grown. This presentation will give an overview of the research performed by BOTU team members investigating novel therapeutics and innovative drug delivery systems in the area of dry eye, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration management.

Monday 22nd May 2017, 4 - 5pm.

Domain Lodge 1 Boyle Crescent.


Semifluorinated Alkanes: A Panacea for Dry Eye Therapy? Priyanka Agarwal, PhD Candidate, Department of Ophthalmology.

Dry Eye Disease is a multifactorial disorder of the tears and ocular surface that results in symptoms of ocular discomfort, visual disturbance and tear film instability with potential damage to the ocular surface. Currently, a combination of symptomatic and pathogenic treatments is recommended for dry eye therapy. However, application of multiple eye drops is often inconvenient for the patient and response to treatment is typically very slow. Therefore, this project aims to evaluate whether semifluorinated alkanes can overcome these limitation by enhancing topical delivery of anti-inflammatory agents, such as Cyclosporine A, while simultaneously improving tear film stability.

Identifying the Cortical Location of Letter-crowding Using Population Receptive Field Mapping. Catherine Morgan, Postdoctoral Fellow School of Optometry and Vision Science.

Our peripheral vision is limited by our inability to recognise objects when they appear within "clutter", a phenomenon known as crowding. Although widely studied, where this phenomenon happens in the brain remains unclear. In this presentation we show a method for determining the neural location of crowding using individual differences, by correlating subjects' susceptibility to crowding (measured using psychophysics) and cortical architecture, measured using population receptive field (pRF) mapping. pRF is a recently developed functional MRI technique that uses a range of visual stimuli to activate different visual areas in the brain. The resulting pRF maps yield an estimate of cortical magnification factor and population receptive field size. Crowding in the fovea is a feature of neurodegenerative diseases such as posterior cortical atrophy (PCA) and of neurodevelopmental disorders such as amblyopia. Future application of our technique to these groups could uncover the specific nature of their disorder and assist in the development of rehabilitation (in the case of PCA) or to reveal how current treatments for amblyopia work and so can be optimised.

Wednesday 28th June 2017, 4 - 5pm.

Conference Room, Domain Lodge, 1 Boyle Crescent.


Clinical imaging the hemo/fluid-dynamics of the eye using MRI. Dr Ehsan Vaghefi, Senior Lecturer, School of Optometry and Vision Science.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a versatile modality that can produce high-resolution three dimensional anatomical and functional datasets of human tissue. Although the MRI technology has considerably advanced in recent years, its application to image the eye has stalled for several technical and practical reasons. At The University of Auckland, and in collaboration with Centre for Advanced MRI, we have been developing eye-specific MRI protocols. Our novel battery of ophthalmic MRI modalities can now image the fluid and hemodynamic of the eye as well the "hydration state" of ocular tissue. This presentation is a summary of our latest advances.

Wednesday 19th July 2017, 4 - 5pm.

Conference Room, Domain Lodge, 1 Boyle Crescent.


In Vivo Orbital Compliance in Thyroid Eye Disease. Hans Vellara, Department of Ophthalmology.

Thyroid eye disease (TED) is an autoimmune disorder. The ocular biomechanical properties in patients with TED (n = 20) and healthy eyes (n = 152) were compared to investigate the potential of the non-contact Scheimpflug based tonometer (CorVis ST, CST) as a diagnostic aid in TED. The mean age of patients with TED and healthy eyes were 46.7 ±19 and 35.9 ±13.8 years, respectively (P=0.03). Maximum orbital deformation (MOD), which reflects orbital compliance, was significantly lower in TED patients (0.16 ± 0.04 mm) compared to healthy eyes (0.25 ± 0.05mm, P<0.001). Receiver operating characteristic analysis revealed an area under the curve of 0.91 ± 0.04 (95% CI 0.84 — 0.98, P<0.001) for MOD. The in vivo ocular biomechanics in TED as measured by the CST reflects a reduced orbital compliance. This method of ocular biomechanical assessment may aid in diagnosing TED, categorization of its severity, and/or assist in monitoring disease activity.

Behavioural Study of Contrast Sensitivity in Octopus. Luis Nahmad, School of Optometry and Vision Science.

Cephalopods, like vertebrates, have a camera-type eye, which provides them with a highly developed sense of vision. However, unlike vertebrates, cephalopods have photoreceptors that directly send signal to the optic lobe. Processing of visual information in vertebrate retina is thought to be aimed to decrease redundancy of the message sent via optic nerve from eye to brain. This reduction of redundancy is achieved by lateral inhibition in vertebrate ganglion cells and is manifested in decreased contrast sensitivity to low spatial frequency. We demonstrate that, in octopus, contrast sensitivity is reduced at low spatial frequency. Because octopus does not have retinal ganglion cells we conclude that the lateral inhibition occurs in octopus brain and therefore is not explained by the reduction of redundancy hypothesis. Alternatively, the lateral inhibition may occur by direct interaction between photoreceptor cells in octopus eye.

Validation of the EASYTEAR View+ and Keratograph 5M Device for Ocular Surface Evaluation. William Shew, Trainee Intern, Department of Ophthalmology.

The Keratograph 5M (K5M) and EASYTEARTM View + (ETV+) with MV500 camera attachment offers tear lipid layer assessment, non-invasive tear break up time measurements and meibography. Literature describing the repeatability and reproducibility of these devices is lacking despite the K5M being workhorse device in the Ocular Surface Laboratory. The aim of this project was to explore device test-retest reliability, device agreement and inter/intraobserver agreement. The presenter will briefly present the highlights of the study and suggest recommendations for other ophthalmic researchers intending to utilise these devices for their future projects.

Wednedday 23th August 2017, 4.00 - 5.15pm.

Conference Room, Domain Lodge, 1 Boyle Crescent.


Automated Perimetry: The history of the Humphrey Field Analyser and the Development of the SITA Algorithm. Dr Vincent Michael Patella, Vice President, Professional Affairs at Carl Zeiss Meditec.

Dr Patella will be discussing and referring to his co-authored book called The Field Analyser Primer: Effective Perimetry.

The last 10 years have seen the rapid refinement and adoption of automated imaging techniques that today quite effectively complement the information provided by automated perimetry. There has been many improvements in perimetric software, but more importantly we now have a better understanding of the meaning of certain results. Test results, for example, no longer should be viewed as either reliable or unreliable, but as falling on a continuum from highly reliable to marginally informative, sometimes containing useful information even when indicators of reliability are not optimal. Furthermore, progression is no longer viewed as simply being present or absent, but careful evaluation will consider the rate of change, as well as the degree of certainty that change really has occurred. Both diagnosis and management can now be better than ever before when a modern automated perimeter is used in an astute manner by a well-informed practitioner.

Monday 11th September 2017, 1.30 - 2.30pm.

Lecture Theatre 503-024, FMHS, Grafton.


When The Tilt Doesn't Make Sense. Dr Shuan Dai, Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer, Department of Ophthalmology.

Head tilt is a frequently presenting sign in many children with strabismus or nystagrnus and often this head tilt leads one to look for specific extraocular muscle which might cause this head tilt. However, there are many other pathological processes that can induce head tilt without obvious extraocular muscle abnormality. Some of those pathological processes are life threatening and head tilt may be the only presenting sign.

The purpose of this presentation is to overview the causes of head tilt, present the current understanding of the pathogenesis of head tilt in each category and demonstrate means to differentiate the head tilt induced by extraocular muscle abnormality from those induced by other pathological processes, especially those from life threatening pathological processes in the central nerve system.

Wednesday 18th September 2017, 4 - 5pm.

Domain Lodge, 1 Boyle Crescent, Grafton.


Intense Pulsed Light Therapy for the treatment of MGD. Ally Xue, PhD Student, Department of Ophthalmology.

The lipid layer of the tears is derived primarily from meibomian glands located within the upper and lower eyelids. An intact lipid barrier plays an important role in slowing aqueous evaporation and promoting tear film stability. Therefore, meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) is a major aetiological factor in the development of dry eye - a chronic, debilitating condition which causes significant impact on quality of life. Traditional management strategies fail to offer relief to many symptomatic patients. Both clinicians and affected patients typically consider MGD therapies disappointing, and seek alternative management options. One novel treatment to emerge in recent years is intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy. A prospective pilot study by the Ocular Surface Laboratory demonstrated significant and cumulative improvements to the lipid quality and stability of the tear fihn, as well as reduced symptoms following IPL application. Therefore, a larger randomised, placebo-controlled trial was conducted to explore the effect of IPL on evaporative dry eye, and investigate the underlying mechanism(s) in order to determine applicability in different patient sub-groups.

Ocular Lens Function and Aging Visualised With Mass Spectrometry. Dr Gus Grey, Senior Research Fellow, School of Optometry and Vision Science.

To function as an effective optical element, the avascular lens exhibits several specialisations that include an ordered cellular structure, a gradient in refractive index, and a circulating current to deliver nutrients and remove waste products from the lens nucleus. The aging lens undergoes many changes to metabolites and proteins that alter these physiological and optical functions in specific lens regions. Some of these changes are associated with formation of age-related nuclear cataract. This talk will show how a combination of human and laboratory-aged bovine lenses are being analysed by advanced mass spectrometry techniques to identify and map these changes. In addition, initial mass spectrometry-based investigations to test the role of the circulating current in lens nutrient delivery will be discussed.

Wednesday 18th October 2017, 4 - 5.15pm.

Domain Lodge, 1 Boyle Crescent, Grafton.

Understanding the Molecular Basis for Cataract - Opening a Window to a New View of Age-related Human Diseases. Roger Truscott, Senior Research Professor, Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, New South Wales.

The age dependence of human cataract has been known for decades. What has altered significantly in the past few years is our understanding of the link between aging and cataract at the molecular level. In particular, recognition of the crucial importance of the fact that lens proteins do not turn over and that they degrade over time via a number of mechanisms. Information is now available about the scale, and time course, of age-related protein modifications and how such degradation affects the properties of the human lens.

Remarkably the lens is not the only tissue that contains old proteins. Long-lived proteins are widespread throughout the body and over time they also break down. Characterising such age-related protein decomposition will be important for understanding a range of age-related human diseases, including multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer disease.

Monday 13th November 2017, 3 - 4pm.

Lecture Theatre 503-020, FMHS, Grafton.

Physiological and Pathological Nitric Oxide Signaling in the Diabetic Retina, and its Assay in Organotypic Rodent Retinal Explant Cultures - Professor Oliver Schmachtenberg, Professor of Neuroscience, University of Valparaiso, Chile.

Nitric oxide (NO) is a free radical involved in physiological and pathological processes in the retina, exerting specific local actions depending on the cell and receptor type. In the outer retina, NO signaling via S­nitrosylation in photoreceptors was shown to enhance retinal sensitivity and be involved in dark adaptation. In the inner retina, NO is produced by subsets of amacrine and bipolar cells. Here, NO signaling via cGMP differentially modulates signal processing in the ON and OFF pathways. Light-dependent gap junction coupling and blood flow through retinal vessels are also mediated by NO. Under diabetic conditions, alterations of vascular NO signaling, excessive NO synthesis by inducible NOS due to cellular inflammation and resulting free radical accumulation affect retinal physiology, and may lead to cellular injury and functional impairment. We have recently introduced a new in vitro model system for the study of diabetic retinopathy, based on organotypic rodent retinal explant cultures, which allows precise physiological and pharmacological manipulation of the retina for up to three weeks. Exposed to conditions emulating type 1 or type 2 diabetes, retinal explants displayed elevated cell death rates among photoreceptors and inner retinal neurons. Our results support an early direct impact of elevated glucose levels on retinal cells, independent of the vasculature. This in vitro DR model should prove useful to study the mechanisms of neuronal cell death mediated by excessive production of free radicals like NO in DR, and to screen for potential future DR treatments.

Monday 20th November 2017, 4 - 5pm.

Conference Room, Domain Lodge, 1 Boyle Crescent.


Retinal Defocus Detection. Dr Philip Turnbull, School of Optometry and Vision Science.

Despite effective therapies for controlling myopia being used clinically, we still lack understanding of how these treatments work. Eye growth is visually guided, aiming to reduce residual refractive error, and can respond to both hyperopic and myopic defocus. This can even occur when the output from the eye is blocked, suggesting that the retina alone can detect the sign of defocus. However, how it achieves this is unknown. We have recently completed an experiment which used mfERG to investigate the retinal response to inherent and imposed defocus. By improving our understanding of how defocus is processed in the eye, mfERG can provide a quick and easy method for optimising myopia control therapies on an individual level.

Universal Newborn Eye Screening. Samantha Simkin, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Ophthalmology Department.

Early detection of ocular abnormalities is essential for timely treatment, and to prevent unnecessary visual impairment. Wide-field digital imaging (WFDI) with telemedicine, remote review by an ophthalmologist, has been in place for retinopathy of prematurity screening in Auckland for over ten years. The efficacy of WFDI as a tool for universal newborn eye screening was assessed in a prospective observational study of 350 infants. Birth-related retinal haemorrhages were detected in 15%, and a further 1.4% had ocular conditions requiring ophthalmology referral, including congenital cataract and optic nerve hypoplasia. WFDI with telemedicine is an effective tool for universal newborn eye screening. Further research is needed to determine the long-term impact of birth-related retinal hemorrhages and to assess the health economics of universal newborn eye screening.

Wednesday 13th December 2017, 4 - 5pm.

Conference Room, Domain Lodge, 1 Boyle Crescent.