School of Medical Sciences

Molecular Vision Research Cluster

The Molecular Vision Research Cluster (MVRC) consists of a group of independent research groups who combine their distinct areas of expertise to enable the integrative function of ocular tissues to be studied. The goal of the members of the MVRC is to reduce the onset and progression of age related eye diseases with a particular focus on the lens pathologies, presbyopia and cataract, which are respectively the leading causes of refractive error and blindness in the world today.

General area of research: The majority of cases of age-related vision loss in the world today are associated with the lens pathologies—presbyopia and cataract. While it is believed these two lens pathologies are linked by oxidative damage to lens proteins, antioxidant-based therapies have to date proven ineffective in slowing the onset of either presbyopia or cataract. The MVRC confirmation of the existence of a lens microcirculation system, which generates a circulating flux of water through the lens, has provided an alternative view to not only to understand the onset of presbyopia and cataract, but also to develop new therapeutic pathways to treat presbyopia and cataract using antioxidants. The MVRC have shown that movement of water through the lens generates a substantial and highly regulated pressure gradient, delivers nutrients and antioxidants to the lens centre, controls lens water content and volume, and maintains overall lens optics. However, with advancing age, these processes become dysfunctional. During middle age, lens pressure and water content increase and the ability of the lens to accommodate is lost. In the elderly, the failure of the system to control lens volume and to deliver antioxidants results in diabetic cortical and nuclear cataract, respectively. It follows therefore that by studying how water transport is regulated in the lens, that novel antioxidant-based pharmacological approaches can be developed to maintain the optical properties and transparency of the lens and thereby prevent the onset of presbyopia and cataract.

Research expertise: Initially founded around the expertise of Professor Paul Donaldson in the general field of membrane transport, the addition of new principle investigators to the MVRC has increased the arsenal of experimental tools that can be applied to study age related eye diseases. Research projects in the MVRC typically use varying combinations of molecular biology, protein biochemistry, proteomics, imaging mass spectrometry, cellular imaging, electrophysiology, biomechanics, drug delivery, in vitro and in vivo MRI, laser ray tracing, and computer modelling to determine how the properties of ion channels and transporters contribute to the integrative function of ocular tissues.

Collaborations: Although based in the Department of Physiology in the School of Medical Sciences, the MVRC is a foundation partner in The New Zealand National Eye Centre (NZ-NEC). The NZ-NEC is an interfaculty research centre formed by researchers in the fields of bioengineering, ophthalmology, optometry, eye health and visual sciences at the University of Auckland. Through the NZ-NEC, we not only have access to the invaluable expertise of our clinical collaborators, but also to human tissues from eye surgeries and the New Zealand Eye Bank. Furthermore, the MVRC has established a number of international collaborations with researchers at USA and Japanese University’s that strongly connects the MVRC to the international vision research community, within which the MVRC is considered to the leading centre for research into the lens pathologies presbyopia and cataract.

Opportunities: The MVRC represents a highly collaborative and supportive environment for students to undertake a range of multidisciplinary projects that have the potential to contribute to the alleviation of the growing burden of age-related eye disease.