My research to date has mainly centred on Age-related macular degeneration (AMD). My PhD thesis conducted within the department was entitled “Macular Pigment (MP) and Visual Function in Ageing and Age-related Maculopathy” (2005). It focused on changes in visual function during the early stages of AMD as well as identifying risk factors for progression to advanced disease.
Obtaining an Australian Bicentennial scholarship in 2006 enabled me to spend a year at the University of Melbourne where I worked mainly on a twin study investigating the extent to which genetics determines visual function later in life. Analysis revealed several interesting observations regarding aspects of visual function which appear to have a strong genetic basis and others which are vulnerable to environmental exposures over a life-time. A two-year post-doc at the Department of Experimental Psychology in Cambridge followed, and provided the opportunity to take these concepts further as the PERGENIC project aimed to investigate the relationship between visual perception and genetics.
My current research can be divided into several themes:
- Visual Function in AMD. I am interested in the development of better measures of both picking up progression to advanced disease at an earlier stage and monitoring response to therapies more effectively. I am currently working with colleagues in Birmingham evaluating the use of Preferential Hyperacuity perimetry to detect reactivation of the neovascular complex after successful Lucentis treatment.
- Structural Markers in AMD. As well as early functional markers for disease progression I am interested in tracking early structural changes using multi-modal imaging (colour, fluorescein, OCT and Autofluorescence). I am currently working on grading schemes for early AMD that incorporate all of the previously mentioned imaging modalities as well as looking at structure-function relationships.
- Genotype-phenotype correlations in AMD. AMD displays a heterogeneous variety of presentations and as more and more progress is made in elucidating the genetic basis of AMD there is a challenge to relate these to clinical phenotypes. In Belfast we have an excellent resource of DNA, clinical information and retinal imaging with which to do this.
- Epidemiology and AMD I continue to work closely with Professor Usha Chakravarthy and colleagues in the Centre for Public Health to more fully understand risk factors related to AMD. I am particularly interested in nutritional factors in collaboration with Dr. Jayne Woodside. I am also interested in the strong relationship between AMD and cardiovascular disease and hope to further explore this with my cardiovascular colleagues within our centre in the near future.
Current PhD student:
“Investigation of the genetic and environmental determinants of MP including response to supplementation”
This study aims to find out why the levels of macular pigment (MP) differ widely in the normal population and to assess the effectiveness of supplementation in increasing MP levels. MP is entirely dietary in origin and we are interested in if sensitivity to bitterness, may cause many people may avoid the foods in which it is present and therefore have lower levels. Previous studies have also found that some people do not respond to supplementation so we want to find out why.
University of Melbourne:
University of Cambridge:
Teaching duties include:
- Genes, molecules and processes tutorials to 1st year medical students.
- Ocular anatomy and physiology lecture to 2nd year medical students as part of their core anatomy and physiology module.
I also co-ordinate a student selected component (SSC) for 2nd year medical students on “The application of visual function measurements in clinical medicine” as well as two lectures in colleagues SSC modules, one on the visual function in the ageing eye and another on eye examination techniques.