Feature, Orthoptics Australia

OAW 2021: Clinical research and a new retinal camera

Darvy Dang cera ophthalmic neuroscience unit Retinal camera Alzheimer's disease

Orthoptics is a versatile field with many opportunities and diverse career options that will continually evolve and expand. Whether you are working in education, research, private or public settings; being an orthoptist means working together with a variety of other individuals and health professionals as a team to deliver the best quality care.

Orthoptists play a critical role in promoting improved quality of life in people with vision problems. However, it’s more than just providing eyecare. Being an orthoptist requires good critical thinking skills and a genuine sense of scientific curiosity.

Darvy Dang.

At the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA), orthoptists play an important role in world-leading vision research focussing on research that makes a real difference for patients. As an international leader in eye research, our world-class knowledge and expertise are used to discover better treatments, faster diagnosis and prevention of eye disease. Hence, we are dedicated to saving sight and offering hope to people affected by vision loss.

There are also many passionate orthoptists who do not have a direct patient contact role working in a range of areas including data analysis, research, governance and clinical trial coordination and management. These are the committed individuals who work tirelessly to ensure projects and studies start up and run smoothly.

Part of my role as a member of the Ophthalmic Neuroscience Unit includes clinical testing and retinal imaging of research participants using highly specialised technology to assess, detect and monitor various eye diseases. This information helps us to conduct translational research that has real-life impact.

There is never a dull day when you are working in clinical research. Not only is it a fulfilling career that has vastly benefitted my knowledge and skills, it’s also a challenging one –filled with endless hypotheses and possibilities (and ethics applications).

Our team’s focus has been on developing an eye scan that is cheap, quick and non-invasive for the detection of amyloid beta in the retina.

The retinal camera looks for signs of the protein amyloid beta.

Amyloid beta, a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, is a protein deposited in the brain over many years and recent research indicated it also accumulated in the retina at the back of the eye. Using specialised colour imaging, cameras developed as a screening tool by our team will measure deposits of amyloid beta in the retina years before signs of cognitive decline. Hence, people at risk could then be referred for confirmatory tests including PET scans and lumbar punctures.

We have hopes that this camera will have the possibility of becoming a screening test offered as part of a routine eye test by an optometrist or orthoptist, to identify where people are on the risk spectrum and to monitor amyloid beta progression over time. As there is currently no screening test for Alzheimer’s disease we hope to fill that gap.

It could also accelerate research efforts to delay, prevent, or even cure the disease, as scientists take a more targeted and less invasive approach to testing new drugs and treatments for those most at risk.

The eye test is currently offered to volunteers in the Healthy Brain Project, a study of healthy middle-aged adults with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease that aims to identify risk factors. This research brings leading eye researchers from CERA together with Healthy Brain Project investigators, neuropsychologist Dr Yen Ying Lim, of the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, Monash University and neurologist Dr Nawaf Yassi, of the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

The best part of being an orthoptist is working hard to get the best possible outcome for patients or research participants and seeing improvements and happy results. I always strive to go above and beyond to educate and support patients in managing their eye disease.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Darvy Dang is an Orthoptist and Clinical Trial Coordinator for the Ophthalmic Neuroscience Unit at the Centre for Eye Research Australia.

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