NHMRC scholarship to help stop the ‘silent stealer of sight’
UTS Orthoptics PhD Student and Practitioner Teacher Sahar Shariflou has been awarded an NHMRC Postgraduate Research Scholarship Grant to support her research into the early detection of glaucoma.
Can you imagine gradually becoming blind with no symptoms? This is the fate of many glaucoma patients.
Glaucoma is a progressive eye disease that causes irreversible blindness where vision is lost gradually and often without any symptoms. The vision loss occurs initially in the peripheral vision while the central vision often remains intact, so almost half of all sufferers are unaware that they even have a problem. Consequently, it is sadly known as the “silent stealer of sight”.
Approximately 300,000 Australians have undiagnosed glaucoma, and early detection is vital in reducing the incidence of glaucomatous blindness. There is an urgent need for early screening before the disease causes irreversible cell death within the eye.
Research conducted by Sahar Shariflou, a UTS Orthoptics PhD student, involves the use of a screening tool that aims to develop a means of detecting those at risk.
With this research, we aim to introduce a means to help prevent people from losing their sight due to glaucoma.
“Early detection is vital to reducing the number of people with glaucoma who progress to complete blindness,” says Sahar. “Current diagnosis is based on comprehensive ocular examinations but the difficulty lies in predicting the onset of glaucoma.”
Sahar’s research looks at markers that may help identify or predict the beginning of the disease. The primary markers in her research are the blood vessels at the back of the eye, specifically if there is a fluctuation in vessel diameter over time. To track any changes, a new digital tablet-based device is used to compare patients with healthy eyes, those that are suspected of having the disease and individuals with glaucoma.
“The data collected will be analysed to determine if there are any differences in patients that have or do not have the disease, as well as those who are suspected of developing the disease,” says Sahar.
We hope that by implementing this as a glaucoma screening tool that we will help break the blinding cycle of missed glaucoma diagnosis.
Should this method of using a tablet-based device be successful, Sahar hopes that this research can be useful in other ophthalmic conditions as well as other potential health fields. Although the device and techniques are in their early stages, there is great potential for use in many health settings.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) scholarships provide funding to support research across health and medical research. As the recipient of an NHMRC scholarship, Sahar said she feels very privileged. “The scholarship will provide me with the opportunity to continue my research and make contributions to the current knowledge available in eye health care”.