Research in Vision Sciences

researcher in laboratory

2019 Research projects for Honours (Vision Science)

The 2019 Honours in Vision Science Information Brochure details the research projects that are available for prospective Honours and Masters Students in the Department of  Optometry and Vision Sciences for 2019.
Students will also find the brochure useful as it gives an indication of the diversity of research within the Department and also has information about potential projects and supervisors.

How to apply

If you are interested in any of the available projects as part of an Honours programme, apply online .

To view a list of only the Honours Projects for 2019 , please visit Sonia. Sonia is the honours research project database contains all the research projects that are available to Honours applicants for 2019 Start Year Intake.

Once you have reviewed available projects,  please contact one or more Laboratory Heads, via email, whose research areas interest you. Please provide them with your curriculum vitae and academic transcripts and arrange a meeting to discuss a project in more detail.

You will need to enter your preferences in your online application via Sonia.

Apply online

Heads up! Our department has 13 principal research groups that investigate a vast range of topics related to vision science and optometry, including clinic-based research and laboratory-based research on the eye and brain in health and disease.

Project list

Project Title Project Description Primary Supervisor
Blood flow in migraine: what can the eye tell us? New non-invasive imaging methods allow measurement of blood vessel structure in the retina. Migraine is a common neurological disorder that can result in changes to peripheral vascular responses. There is long-standing debate regarding the extent to which repeated migraine events cause changes to the retina over time. The aim of this project is to determine whether retinal vasculature differs in people with migraine, and whether there is a relationship with migraine severity or frequency. Dr Bao Nguyen
bnguyen@unimelb.edu.au
Does  exercise change visual perception? Recent evidence shows that exercise alters brain neurochemicals. Specifically, exercise alters the balance between cortical inhibition and excitation. This study will test whether short bursts of exercise actually change visual performance, using measures of visual perception that are reliant on the balance of inhibition and excitation in the visual pathways.  Prof Allison McKendrick
allisonm@unimelb.edu.au
Migraine and visual perception People who experience migraine often report sensitivity to certain high contrast visual environments. The mechanisms underpinning this sensitivity are not well elucidated. This project aims to explore visual processing in people with migraine, using visual perceptual tasks designed to localise anomalies within the visual pathways. This project will help shed light on the neuroanatomical basis of visual perceptual symptoms in people with migraine. Prof Allison McKendrick
allisonm@unimelb.edu.au
Do glial cells modulate blood vessel responses to stress in the eye? The sensory liming of the eye cannot store energy and is therefore entirely dependent on a rich network of blood vessels. This network starts at the retinal surface and branches deeper to become three layers (the trilaminar network). These vessels, particularly those in the upper most layer, that support the  output axons of the eye (ganglion cell axons) make contact with many supporting cells, also kown as glial cells.  The extent to which glial cells contribute to the health and control of blood vessels in the eye is pooly understood. Recently we show that the upper most blood vessel layer is most responsive when  stressed. Whether this is because of their strong reationship with glial cells is not known. In this study we will use advanced in vivo imaging (optical coherence tomography angiography) to quantify the response of  blood vessels to stress in living eyes. We will then modify glial cells  and determin if this changes the way that the vessel layers cope with stress. Studying blood vessels and glial cells has important implications for understanding and development new tests and treatments for vascular diseases such as diabetic eye disease and glaucoma; two of the most common conditions that lead to blindness.  A/Prof Bang Bui
bvb@unimelb.edu.au
Assessing novel compounds for diagnostic retinal imaging A key recent finding in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) research is that the toxic form of amyloid-beta (Aβ) lies not in the amyloid plaques but in the soluble oligomers which precede plaque formation. However, it is not yet possible to detect oligomeric Aβ in-vivo. The aim of this project is to apply an anti-oligomer-antibody to the retina, an out-pouching of the central nervous system. Given the clear optics the eye, we will fluorescently tag our antibody and directly image them in living animals. The capacity to develop early and sensitive biomarkers for AD is pivotal given for successful development of treatments. Dr Christine Nguyen
christine.nguyen@unimelb.edu.au
Characteristing ocular measures in an alpha-synuclein model of Parkinson's disease The retina’s electrophysiological response to flashes of light have been shown to be highly discriminating of those with Parkinson’s disease from controls. These changes are thought to be driven by dopamine. Importantly, such anomalies are ameliorated by L-DOPA therapy. Dopamine has multiple roles in the retina including modification of light adaptation and alteration to ON-OFF responses in bipolar cells. Thus by utilising electroretinography techniques which target these dynamic responses may potentially provide a more sensitive marker of dopamine abnormalities in the preclinical and clinical setting. This project aims to evaluate whether this is the case in a transgenic alpha-synuclein mouse model of Parkinson’s disease.  Dr Christine Nguyen
christine.nguyen@unimelb.edu.au
Comparing test-retest reliability of conventional and portable electroretinography assessment Emerging evidence indicates that changes to the electrical response from the retina (electroretinogram) may reflect changes in cortical disease such as Parkinson’s disease. Studies have shown characteristic dampening of the electroretinogram (oscillatory potentials, a, b-wave) in Parkinson's disease patients that reverse with current gold standard treatment with L-DOPA. However, one barrier to being more widely accepted as a clinical tool of drug efficacy is that conventional electroretinography assessment has to be conducted in a specialised laboratory by a highly trained clinician. Portable hand-held ERG devices have recently become available which have further improved comfort and speed for the patient as well as greater ease of use for the clinician. In a control group of patients, this study aims to compare test retest variability of conventional and portable electroretinogram systems to determine whether the portable device may be useful for disease cohorts. Dr Christine Nguyen
christine.nguyen@unimelb.edu.au
Is crowdsourcing a valid approach to evaluating the research quality of fundamental research studies? Before we ‘trust’ a research study, we need to consider how it was performed, and evaluate its potential weaknesses and/or biases. This process, called critical appraisal, enables us to assess the quality of a scientific paper. This is a potentially time-consuming task, which is an established barrier to it being routinely performed. Using the data contributed to an online crowdsourced critical appraisal platform (CrowdCARE) that we have developed, the major aim of this project is to evaluate the quality of the data generated using crowdsourcing, with a particular focus on the appraisal of laboratory-based studies. Dr Laura Downie
ldownie@unimelb.edu.au
Cognitive biases in clinical decision making Cognitive biases, involving systematic thinking errors that impede rational judgement, can impact on health practitioners’ clinical decisions. However, no research has specifically examined the role of cognitive biases in the clinical decision-making of eye care professionals. This project will investigate how different types of cognitive bias influence clinical decision-making in optometric practice, and potentially investigate methods for countering these biases. Outcomes will inform future research into developing interventions to mitigate common bias(es) in practicing eye care clinicians and students. Dr Laura Downie
ldownie@unimelb.edu.au
Understanding the dynamics of corneal immune cells in the human eye In vivo confocal microscopy is a non-invasive, high-resolution imaging technique that permits direct visualisation of the corneal nerves and immune cells (dendritic cells) in the living human eye. Dendritic cells are known to be a dynamic cell population, however there is currently a lack of understanding with respect to how their density change in the human cornea longitudinally. This project will investigate the dynamics of dendritic cell responses in the normal cornea, in order to provide insight into the repeatability of this metric, as a marker of corneal inflammation. Dr Laura Downie
ldownie@unimelb.edu.au
The influence of reward on where we look Bray & Carpenter (2015: European Journal of Neuroscience) have shown that we are quicker to initiate an eye movement toward a location that provides reliable information about the location of a future target. This is consistent with the idea that acquiring information is the “reward” associated with eye movements, in contrast to the sometimes unnatural rewards – such as money or food – used in many experiments. Their method raises several questions about the nature of this information reward and how it is processed by eye movement centres in the brain. This project will investigate some of these questions. A/Prof Andrew Anderson
aaj@unimelb.edu.au
Do the mechanisms that prevent our noticing small eye movements improve our ability to judge small movements in the world? Even when we stare intently at a small target, our eyes are constantly in motion. This results in images that continuously move on our retina. Powerful perceptual stabilisation mechanisms prevent our noticing this motion, however. Whilst this in nice in that it means our world doesn’t appear to incessantly jiggle around, does this actually improve our ability to see things? This project will investigate whether perceptual stabilization mechanisms improve our ability to do a very common task – making fine judgement of relative motion between objects in the world. A/Prof Andrew Anderson
aaj@unimelb.edu.au
Interactions of attention, salience and age on OKN suppression Multiple studies in our lab have shown that suppressing optokinetic nystagmus (OKN) is harder to do when you have to attend to a feature of the moving stimulus, especially as you age. But if the salience of this background is reduced by lowering the contrast, does this make suppressing the response easier or, in contrast (!), does the additional attention required make suppression even harder? A/Prof Larry Abel
label@unimelb.edu.au
Sensory nerve recovery after corneal epithelial injury Following corneal epithelial injury, the regeneration of the corneal nerves is a slow process, often taking months to recover. However, despite this slow recovery process, the corneal appears structurally normal, with the epithelial cells appearing healthy and tissue architecture appearing clear. We propose that this is due to differential rates of recovery of different nerve plexi. This project will quantify the regeneration rates of nerves and measure neuropeptide secretion in distinct regions of the cornea after injury. Techniques include animal handling, clinical imaging, confocal microscopy, protein assays, 3D image reconstruction and image analysis. This project would be suitable for Honours, Masters or PhD students. Dr Holly Chinnery
holly.chinnery@unimelb.edu.au
Characterizing single red and white blood cell flow through human retinal capillary networks Adaptive optics (AO) retinal imaging now permits the spatial resolution to visualize the finest capillaries in the eye and the temporal resolution to observe passage of single red and white blood cells through the smallest arteriolar and venular retinal networks.
The fine details of such blood flow patterns has not yet been fully documented, rendered difficult because of the high speeds of cell flow, the inherently low contrast of cell images, and limited imaging durations imposed by photo-toxicity of the imaging light itself.  With the recent lifting of these technical issues, a novel project emerges to characterize aspects of normal flow such as: cell deformability as a function of vessel caliber; variation in flow velocity through different parts of the network; and the influence of the cardiac cycle on flow pulsatility. 
This project would suit Honours Students who wish to learn about and apply optical  and image processing skills to questions of basic human physiology with immediate clinical applicability. 
A/Prof Andrew Metha
ametha@unimelb.edu.au
Methods to improve the measurement of visual performance Measurements of human visual performance are important both to understand the basic science behind vision and for diagnosis of blinding eye diseases. The methods currently used to measure human visual performance in the clinic and laboratory are time consuming, which limits the amount of information that can be gained in a given test session. This honours project will evaluate the use of alternate testing strategies designed to improve test efficiency, and determine whether such improvements can be obtained whilst avoiding the introduction of inaccuracy or bias.  Specifically, the project asks whether: 1) the reported degree of certainty of participant’s responses be used to determine visual threshold more quickly than assessing the accuracy of responses alone; and 2) the degree to which cueing participants to direct their attention to a smaller part of the visual field can improve the reliability of their responses.  This information may have immediate clinical applicability for improving standard clinical perimetry (visual field testing) for diseases such as glaucoma and maculopathy, and also for making more efficient laboratory investigations of precise retinal cell sensitivity. A/Prof Andrew Metha
ametha@unimelb.edu.au
Macine tissue interfaces in bionic eyes The project will use intracellular recording techniques to record data from rat retina while being stimulated with a bionic eye device (neural stimulating array). The project aims to establish the efficacy of multi-electrode stimulation to improve the design of future bionic eye devices. Prof Michael Ibbotson
mibbotson@nvri.org.au