Excellence in ophthalmology and vision science 2019

The University of Auckland’s 2019 Excellence in Ophthalmology and Vision Research awards evening was planned as a special night marking 20 years since the awards began and the rise and rise of ophthalmology and vision research in New Zealand.

But the terrible atrocity that was the Christchurch terror attacks which affected all, and some directly from the University, resulted in a more sombre, reflective evening. It remembered those who’d lost their lives, their families and friends, while still celebrating those whose projects, research work and individual achievements marked them as standouts in their field in 2018 who could one day make a positive difference to all in New Zealand.

Professor Charles McGhee, the well-known chair and head of ophthalmology at the University, had the tricky task of presiding over a celebratory evening in the midst of such sorrow and he did so admirably. In place of jubilant celebrations, warm and often amusing anecdotes dating back over 20 years reminded the audience that many of those presenting this year’s awards were winners of the same awards themselves in the past.

Since Prof McGhee had arrived in New Zealand to take up the Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Chair in Ophthalmology in 1999, the percentage of ophthalmologists with a higher research degree had leapt from 3% to more than 20% and the department had grown from six to 60 staff, forging many international links and research collaborations and putting New Zealand’s eye-related research firmly on the international map.

This research capability was then ably demonstrated by Dr Jina Han who reported on her doctoral study into Minimising cataract surgery complications through preoperative risk assessment, which analysed the importance of senior ophthalmologists handling more complicated cases. Dr Han will be sharing these findings in more detail in a later edition of NZ Optics.

The main event, however, was the awards, which this year were awarded to:

  • Dr Rebecca Couch - The Calvin Ring Undergraduate Prize for the best all-round student in clinical ophthalmology
  • Dr Henry Wallace - The William MacKenzie Medal for early excellence in eye research
  • Dr Riyaz Bhikoo - The Arthur Thomas Paterson Postgraduate Scholarship

The awards evening also paid tribute to the undergraduate summer students who’d completed their own research projects (see full story online or in March’s NZ Optics). These included:

  • Aditya Arora – Exploring non-modifiable risk factors for dry eye
  • Rebecca Brimble – Evaluating the role of Nrf2 in the lens
  • Mehek Dutta – 3D-printed bandage for corneal wound healing
  • Alex Ferguson – Assessing progression for retinal atrophy in Stargardt disease using image processing techniques
  • Heather Kang – Evaluating the impact of ultrasound on retinal cell function
  • Gamith Kumarasinghe – Prediction of vitreous liquefaction using magnetic resonance imaging
  • Nikita Noord – sex, self and stem cells
  • Micah Rapata – Iris melanoma and other suspicious pigmented lesions
  • Sophie Speakman – Cross-sectional study of meibomian gland drop out with age
  • Tracy Zhang – Transition zone cells: a future for stem cell therapy in corneal endothelial defects?
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