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UC researcher sets sights on cutting-edge test for eye health

Marcus Butler

2 March 2018:

A visionary test available at the University of Canberra is helping researchers focus on eye health in older Australians.

Age-related macular degeneration occurs when parts of the retina, at the rear of the eye, undergo structural changes that can leave the sufferer vision-impaired or blind.

Assistant Professor of Optometry Ron Sabeti, who is studying the disease, is providing early-detection studies and contributing to a better understanding of the causes of macular degeneration. The macula is our central retina that gives us our detailed view of the world.

“A world-first tool to assess the macula has been developed right here in Canberra and we’re putting it to use assessing people for early macular degeneration,” Dr Sabeti said. The work is being done collaboratively with a start-up company, nuCoria Pty Ltd, and the Australian National University.

“Through the newly launched School of Optometry at the University of Canberra, we are offering macular health tests to the public for free, targeting older Canberrans. At the same time, we’re hoping to add to our understanding of the physiology of macular degeneration.

“The test is easy and non-invasive. It involves looking in the device for a few minutes while small lights are flashed in different locations in a person’s visual field. From the data, we get a very good idea of the function of their macula and the risk of degeneration.”

“The standard tests which we run can provide a good assessment of their eye health, but it will be a year or two before the data collected from the new research can be used to inform patients.”

Dr Sabeti and his colleagues, including the inventor of the device, Professor Ted Maddess (ANU) are hoping that studying a group of people over time may reveal the biomarkers of macular degeneration progression and put some theories to the test.

“Macular pigment is known to protect the eye from degeneration and there are several ‘nutraceutical’ products on the market to help people maintain and boost their macular anti-oxidants, but there has been limited research in how these anti-oxidants improve visual function.

“Diabetes can contribute to macular degeneration, but degeneration can also occur in otherwise healthy individuals. Hopefully our new tests can predict those who may be more likely to suffer deterioration and monitor them closely for changes in their macula and vision.”

Dr Sabeti wants Canberrans aged 65 years and older to take up the offer of a free macular assessment, participate in his research study and undertake a follow-up assessment in the coming year.

Work is underway to deliver a new eye clinic for the University of Canberra Health Hub. The facility will combine clinical services with learning and research opportunities for students from the University’s School of Optometry.

People interested in a macular test or the study can contact Dr Sabeti by email -