Visual Neuroscience

Retinal diseases are a major cause of blindness in the Western world. There are few successful treatments currently available, largely because the underlying mechanisms of disease are not well understood. Our laboratory investigates these underlying disease mechanisms using pre-clinical models and explores potential mechanisms in individuals with potentially blinding conditions. We are currently studying two broad classes of retinal diseases:

Retinal Degenerations:
Death of the light-detecting retinal neurons, the photoreceptors, are associated with 50% of all cases of blindness in Australia, being a major contributor to visual impairment in Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), and hereditary retinal degenerations including Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). There are currently no treatments for RP or AMD. We
are examining the mechanisms of photoreceptor death and whether specific treatments ameliorate or slow the loss of photoreceptors.

Retinal Vascular Disease and Oedema:
One of the major reasons for vision loss is the growth of new blood vessels in the retina (neovascularisation). This vascular pathology is evident in diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and advanced Age-related Macular degeneration. Approximately 10% of all diabetic’s experience vision threatening retinopathy which is characterised by pathological changes in neuronal, glial and vascular function. Diabetic individuals also often develop retinal oedema which is swelling of the retina, particularly within the macular, a specialist region important in high acuity vision. We are investigating the retinal mechanisms that lead to vascular and oedematous pathology and whether novel treatments prevent or slow vision loss, thus improving clinical treatment.

Project SupervisorsProjects

Professor Erica Fletcher

Dr Kirstan Vessey

Dr Andrew Jobling

Dr Una Greferath

Dr Joanna Phipps

Project 1: Pharmacological and laser therapies for age related macular degeneration

Supervisors: Dr Kirstan Vessey, Dr Andrew Jobling and Prof Erica Fletcher

Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is a major cause of vision loss in the older community. There are currently no specific treatments for preventing late stage AMD or slowing the progression of the disease to the later vision threatening forms. In this project we will characterise morphological
and functional changes in the eye of a pre-clinical model of AMD and test novel pharmacological and laser therapies to ameliorate these changes. This project will involve the use of wide ranging techniques such as assessment of visual function, immunohistochemistry and molecular biology. Ultimately, this study will help to answer whether novel pharmacological or laser therapies can be used as a preventative treatment for AMD.

Project 2: The mechanisms involved in diabetic retinopathy and macular oedema

Supervisors: Dr Andrew Jobling, Dr Joanna Phipps and Prof Erica Fletcher

The retina is highly susceptible to damage arising from the high glucose concentrations present during diabetes. Individuals with type I and II diabetes often develop retinopathy (a vascular pathology) and oedema (fluid-induced swelling). Both these pathologies lead to the development of potentially blinding conditions. The development of macular oedema is thought to involve a specialist neuronal support cell called the Müller glia. Using preclinical models, this project will use in vivo imaging techniques, live cell imaging, immunohistochemistry, and molecular biology to examine the changes in the maintenance of retinal water movement and subsequent retinal swelling. Understanding these changes is critical to explaining the retinal pathology that develops during diabetes.