Research in Vision Sciences

researcher in laboratory

Research projects in the Vision Sciences

The 2021 Research in Vision Science Information booklet details the research projects that are available for prospective Honours, Masters, and in some cases also for Research Higher Degree Students starting in Semester 1, 2021 in the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences.

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 or Master of Biomedical Science (Vision Science) programme, apply online.

Apply for Honours

Apply for Masters

Alternatively, if you are eligible, learn more about studying a Master of Philosophy or Doctor of Philosophy with the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences.

Applications can be made via Sonia, from early August 2020. Sonia is the research project database and contains all the research projects that are available to applicants for 2021 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 be required to enter your preferences in your online application via Sonia.

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
The effect of caffeine on perceptual eye dominance plasticity Caffeine is a widely used psychostimulant that is associated with increased acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neuromodulator that plays an important role in the processing of visual information. In particular, the acetylcholine and the cholinergic system are thought to be involved in adult brain plasticity, which can be measured by temporary patching of one eye of a few hours. A recent study showed that perceptual eye dominance plasticity is reduced with pharmacological administration of donepezil (an acetylcholine enzyme inhibitor) in healthy human observers. Here, we will test whether temporarily manipulating caffeine levels has a similar effect on perceptual eye dominance plasticity. This study will contribute to understanding the mechanisms of adult neural plasticity. Dr Bao Nguyen
Outer retinal structure and function in people who suffer episodic migraines Migraine headaches can be associated with visual dysfunction at the time of an attack, but also in between migraine attacks. This study will consider whether there is evidence for anomalies in outer retinal structure and function. This project will be an analytical study of data collected in young and otherwise healthy people with normal vision who suffer from episodic migraines, compared to people who do not regularly get headaches. This study will contribute to our understanding of how migraine may impact on the visual system. Dr Bao Nguyen
Understanding motion perception in peripheral vision Peripheral vision is very sensitive to visual motion cues. These cues are used to identify objects in our periphery and to segment them from other background features. This project will explore which stimulus features are important to the ability to segment moving objects in our peripheral vision, as well as studying whether individual differences in simple aspects of motion perception predict individual ability to identify moving objects on noisy backgrounds. Prof Allison McKendrick
Understanding ganglion cell changes in glaucoma Our investigations of glaucoma hope to shed light on how the cells that connect the eye to the brain, the retinal ganglion cells are able to adapt to changes in their local environment. When such adaptation mechanisms fail ganglion cells undergo programmed cell death. Ganglion cells have to cope with constant changes in the pressures in and around the eye; intraocular pressure, blood pressure and intracranial pressure. As the eye gets older the capacity to cope with stress is diminished, but at the moment we dont understand why this occurs. In order to study how ageing and other risk factors impact the capacity for retinal ganglion cells to cope with stress we have developed both acute and chronic model of intraocular pressure elevation. We will study ganglion cell responses to stress by quantifying their function and relating this to changes in dendritic morphology and expression of membrane pressure sensors. A/Prof Bang Bui
Imaging Parkinson's disease in the eye Diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is a difficult and lengthy process. A hallmark of Parkinson’s is alpha-synuclein deposits in the brain but the skull makes these difficult to detect. Interestingly, in our lab and others, alpha-synuclein has been identified in the retina, an outpouching of the central-nervous-system. The aim of this project is to provide proof-of-principle that it is possible to image alpha-synuclein in the mouse retina. Given the clear optics the eye, we will fluorescently tag an antibody and directly image them in living animals. The capacity to develop early, specific biomarkers for PD is pivotal for development of treatments. Dr Christine Nguyen
The retina as a window to Alzheimer's disease: a prospective study Retinal ganglion cells and their axonal projections form part of the central nervous system and are uniquely suited to direct visualisation and imaging. In Alzheimer’s disease, reports using 3D retinal scans (optical coherence tomography) have suggested that the retinal nerve fibre layer is thinned in patients with advanced dementia. More recently, there has been suggestion that the inner plexiform layers of the retina are thickened in people with early Alzheimer’s. This project is part a longitudinal study known as the Women in Healthy Ageing Project and will correlate optical coherence tomography measures to mental health status from depression to dementia. In this manner the project will evaluate whether the time course of retinal measurements is potentially useful as a topographical biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Christine Nguyen
Examining neuroinflammation in a model of Parkinson’s disease Neuroinflammation is central to the pathophysiology of Parkinson’s disease, however it is challenging to measure in vivo. Assessment in peripheral systems (such as blood) may be indicative but are limited due to the distinct inflammatory pathways found within the central nervous system. It is established from PD human post‐mortem substantia nigra tissue, that microglia become activated and release specific proinflammatory cytokines that lead to neurodegeneration. The eye is an out‐pouching of the brain and literature indicates that 3 dimensional scans of the retina show thickening which is typical of active inflammation. What has not been examined are inflammatory markers which correspond to these changes. This project aims to examine tissue from a mouse model of Parkinson's disease to evaluate microglial and associated inflammatory markers that correspond to the timecourse of retinal thickening with eye scans. Dr Christine Nguyen
A marker for Parkinson's disease? ON- OFF- 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 dampening of the electroretinogram in Parkinson's disease patients that reverse with current gold standard treatment with levadopa. Indeed, dopamine has multiple roles in the retina including light adaptation and ON-OFF bipolar cells responses but light adaptation can be time-consuming and ON- OFF- responses have been difficult to measure. This study aims to apply a novel analysis approach recently shown to differentiate ON and OFF bipolar cell responses to electroretinography recordings from patients and animal models with Parkinson's disease. Such an approach will aid understanding of whether assessment of the ON-OFF- system is an informative marker for Parkinson's disease. Dr Christine Nguyen
Ocular imaging and visual function biomarkers of inherited retinal disease in children Inherited retinal disease (IRD) is the most common cause of blindness in working aged adults, but is often diagnosed in children and teenagers. Little is known about the initial stages of retinal degeneration. This project will use world-class imaging (including optical coherence tomography) and visual function tests (such as colour vision and acuity) to determine the earliest disease changes. This project will be completed in collaboration with researchers at Oxford University. Dr Lauren Ayton
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. A/Prof Laura Downie
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. A/Prof Laura Downie
Masking in therapeutic clinical trials of ocular interventions: are we turning a blind eye? Masking, also referred to as blinding, is a process that intentionally withholds knowledge about treatment assignments from research participants and/or study investigators. The procedure intends to prevent bias in the assessment of outcomes, particularly those that are subjective (e.g., pain scores). Whilst studies often describe themselves as 'masked', it is unclear if (and/or how) the rigor of study masking is evaluated, to confirm the appropriateness of the use of this descriptor inthe published study. Using a systematic review methodology, this project will identify and synthesise evidence relating to the frequency of objectively assessing the rigour of the masking process within published intervention trials for ocular therapeutics. A/Prof Laura Downie
Tracking single red and white blood cell flow through retinal capillary networks Recent retinal imaging advances now allow the ability to visualize the finest capillaries in the living eye. Not only can we see the shape of these important vessels, modern cameras now have the temporal resolution to observe single red and white blood cells as they pass through retinal vascular networks. These are the blood circuits that keep your retina healthy, and which fail in diseases such as diabetes and age-related macular degeneration. The fine details of blood flow patterns have not yet been fully documented because blood flows very quickly. Also, because the retina is designed to be transparent, it has been hard to obtain high contrast-images without risking light damage. With the recent lifting of these technical issues, a novel project emerges to characterize aspects of normal flow such as: cell deformability during flow; variation in flow velocity through different parts of the network; and the influence of the cardiac cycle on flow pulsatility. This project would suit students wishing to learn how cutting-edge technology and image processing methods are being applied to questions of basic human physiology with immediate clinical applicability. A/Prof Andrew Metha
Improving the measurement of visual performance Accurate 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 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 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
How does perceptual binding relate to visual attention and reading? There is increasing support not only for a substantial role of visual attention in enabling reading, but also for the idea that the basic deficit in dyslexia is one in visuo-spatial attention rather than, as believed so far, in phonological processing. A critical brain region involved in executing top-down attention essential for reading is the posterior parietal cortex. One of the major functions associated with this cortical area that uses top-down attention is that of perceptual binding of different attributes of every object in the scene correctly. The project will explore the relationship of perceptual binding to the efficiency of visual attention and reading speeds. Prof Trichur Vidyasagar
Intrinsic rhythms in primary visual cortex Oscillating neuronal activity in the brain has long been identified at a coarse level and studied as electroencephalogram by scalp electrodes. However, in recent years they have also been investigated at finer spatial scales and have begun to reveal their importance in many functions such as attention, working memory and communication between brain regions. This project will explore the different rhythms that occur in the visual cortex and their role in visual perception. Prof Trichur Vidyasagar
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
Recovery of corneal nerves after injury in mice.Corneal nerve health is critical for the integrity of the ocular surface. Damage to corneal nerves can result in inflammation, loss of corneal transparency and reduced sensitivity to noxious stimuli. In this project, corneal nerves will be experimentally damaged in mice, and the rate of regeneration measured using confocal microscopy and 3D image analysis. Restoration of sensitivity will be measured. These findings will provide important insights into the structure and function of corneal nerves during wound healing. Techniques include animal handling, tissue processing, immunofluorescent staining, confocal microscopy and 3D image analysis and statistical analysis.Dr Holly Chinnery