Questions? AskAuckland
Edition 4  l December 2016

Message from the Head of School

Professor Steven Dakin
Professor Steven Dakin

Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to the 4th and final edition of our newsletter for 2016.

At the beginning of November, I was lucky enough to attend an event hosted by Macular Degeneration New Zealand (MDNZ) at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Professor Alan Bird from Moorfields Eye Hospital in London presented a fascinating overview of the causes and current treatments for macular disease. MDNZ also revealed figures from a Deloitte survey, indicating that the economic cost of this disease to NZ now runs in excess of $450M per year. This event highlighted the challenges that age-related eye disease presents to NZ and the critical importance of research in this area.

Plenty of good news to finish the year. All four academic staff promotions applications were successful: Ehsan has been promoted to senior lecturer, Michelle to PTF 3, and Wanda and Bhav to PTF4. Some very well-deserved recognition all round.

In other staffing news, it was great to see so many of you at Rob’s recent semi-retirement celebratory drinks. It was wonderful to meet or catch up with many friends of the school, old or new. I am still depressed that Rob’s off-the-cuff speech was considerably better than my own (planned) effort.

Congratulations to Jay, Michelle and Adele who have all had babies since the last newsletter. There does seem to have been something in the water this year...

And finally (and very importantly) the printer is fixed!

I’d like to thank everyone for their hard work through the year – as I indicated at the Christmas lunch, you all have much to be proud of this year and I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for all of us in 2017. Have a wonderful break!


Professor Steven Dakin

Head of School, School of Optometry and Vision Science

Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences


Distinguished Alumni

Image of Erna Takazawa
Erna Takazawa

I am delighted to inform you that Erna Takazawa has been selected as the 2017 Young Alumna for the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.

Erna is the first and only fully qualified optometrist in Samoa and one of Samoa's first ever Queen's Young Leader Award winners.

Erna is an extremely worthwhile recipient of this award. We are thrilled!

Read more


Image of Dr Phil Turnbull, Professor Steven Dakin
From left: Dr Phil Turnbull, Professor Steven Dakin

This year, Dr Phil Turnbull and I published a paper in Scientific Reports showing precise and accurate clinical measures of vision (contrast and acuity) can be made using automated analysis of eye movements.

The study involved measuring people's vision using reflexive movements of the eyes that happen whenever we see motion.

Eye movements were recorded as subjects viewed different patterns. This enabled us to precisely estimate their acuity (the smallest thing they could see) and contrast sensitivity (the dimmest thing they could see).

Because our test does not require the patient to say or do anything, it can be used when conventional tests may be too difficult (e.g. for children).

Read the paper here



Image of Drs Monica Acosta & Cindy Guo
From left: Drs Monica Acosta, Cindy Cuo

Dr Cindy Guo and colleagues investigating the biological basis for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have published a new paper in IOVS showing a novel potential drug treatment for AMD and diabetic retinopathy using a laboratory-based model.

This research was part of Cindy’s PhD project supervised by SOVS’s Dr Monica Acosta and Professor Colin Green in the Department of Ophthalmology.

Read the paper here



The BRAVO (Binocular treatment of amblyopia using video games) study is the first randomised controlled trial for amblyopia in older children and adults using a binocular treatment approach. This study builds upon previous case-series studies to evaluate the effectiveness of a home-based binocular video game for improving amblyopic eye visual acuity and stereopsis. 

The trial is ongoing and the BRAVO team is planning to publish the primary outcome in early 2017. Associate Professor Ben Thompson and the BRAVO team published the study protocol in Trials.

Read the paper here




Image of Dr Ehsan Vaghefi
Dr Ehsan Vaghefi

Dr Ehsan Vaghefi’s new paper, “The physiological optic of the lens” was published in the respected journal of Progress in Retinal and Eye Research with the Impact Factor of 9.394. This is the highest ranked eye journal in the world.

The paper discusses a comprehensive review of the human lens “hydration”, covering 40 years of biomechanical, molecular and physiological research. It is now understood that the human lens “dehydrates” with aging, which in turn leads to development of presbyopia in our 40’s and cataracts in our 60’s.

Dr Vaghefi believes that both presbyopia and age-related cataracts are treatable by targeting the “rehydrating” the aging lens, and supplementing it with appropriate antioxidants.

Professor Paul Donaldson, Head of School of Medical Sciences was the leading contributor, and Drs Angus Grey and Bianca Maceo Heilman, both from Physiology, were the other collaborators.

Read the paper here




Image of Seonaigh Scott
Seonaigh Scott

Congratulations to Seonaigh Scott for graduating with First Class Honours from our faculty with a Masters of Audiology. Her research has added to our understanding of how hearing loss interacts with vision. 

Seonaigh's study showed that when an individual suffers severe to profound hearing loss, evidence of a peripheral advantage in visual attention is well-established.

This provides support for a phenomenon known as the sensory compensation model. This model indicates that a deficit in one sensory modality results in increased functioning in the remaining modalities.

Read her success story here


Image of Safal Khanal
Safal Khanal, PhD student

The Auckland Myopia Lab has received a Science and Technology Seeding Award of US$100,000 from contact lens company Coopervision, to investigate how the human retina differentiates the direction of retinal image defocus (blur).

To see clearly, light entering the eye needs to focus on the light-sensitive retina to prevent refractive errors like myopia.

Because the eye grows during adolescence, this presents a moving target and the growth rate of the eye needs to be regulated.

The eye can control the rate of growth without input from the brain, which suggests that the retina itself is able to determine whether the eye is too long (myopic) or too short (hyperopic), relative to where light is focused.

However, little is known about how the retina responds to such opposing defocus signals. This award enables Dr Phillips and the Auckland Myopia Lab to investigate how the retinal neurons respond to complex patterns of myopic and hyperopic defocus.

A greater insight into these mechanisms will help our understanding about why refractive errors occur, and inform future myopia control technology.

Co-investigators on this project include Dr Phil Turnbull, Andrew Collins and Safal Khanal.


Dr Ehsan Vaghefi, in collaboration with Professor Paul Donaldson from the School of Medical Sciences, together with colleagues from the State University of New York, has been awarded Marsden funding totalling $810,000.

The ultimate goal of the research is to come up with non-invasive, early intervention methods of improving vision and delaying the onset of cataracts.

Read more


Image of eye close up

This year, I attended the MATLAB Academic Conference, which is a series of free one-day events held throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Each event includes technical presentations, real-life case studies and product demonstrations that provide attendees with new knowledge and skills they can start applying immediately.

I was invited to speak at the conference and presented on “Using MATLAB to investigate human vision."

Follow this link and scroll down to listen to my talk




Image of Andrew Collins
Andrew Collins, Academic Director

This year's American Academy of Optometry was held in November in Anaheim, California and was attended by Andrew Collins, Bhavini Solanki and Safal Khanal.

Andrew presented results from the material from his PhD thesis and Safal presented preliminary results from his PhD work. At this year’s annual meeting, Safal was awarded Fellowship in the American Academy of Optometry.



Image of Gini Parslow, Practicum Placement Coordinator
Gini Parslow, Practicum Placement Coordinator

The 2016 New Zealand Association of Optometrists (NZAO) conference took place 14-16 October in New Plymouth. Practicum Placement Coordinator, Gini Parslow reports that the conference was an excellent opportunity to network and put faces to names. There were numerous conversations with the many varied optometrists who so generously assisted with mentoring the next generation of optometrists.

We value highly the contribution that mentors from the profession make toward preparing students to be ready for professional practice.

School Screening expansion

School screening in the library
School screening in the library

For many years, the School of Optometry and Vision Science has been involved in vision screening of school children in the greater Auckland region.

Students from the Bachelor of Optometry programme visited 10 schools in 2016 to provide children with a free vision check-up. Follow-up visits to local optometrists or the University of Auckland Optometry Clinic were encouraged for those children who do not achieve expected results.

In 2014, a commitment was made to expand this effort, and 700 children were tested, resulting in 70 additional patient visits for our students to examine at the University Eye Clinic.

In 2015, the number of children tested was more than doubled to 1500, and the number of resulting visits to the clinic increased by over 100. In 2016, we screened a record 2000 children and our clinic visits (to November) were over 100.

This programme is tremendously valuable for several reasons.

The children benefit from being screened and receiving eye tests; they need to be able to see, to achieve their academic potential. Dr Nicola Anstice, Senior Lecturer and Professional Liaison at our SOVS states that there is mounting evidence that poor vision in childhood is associated with reduced early literacy and reading fluency as well as other reading difficulties. The SOVS children’s vision screening programme provides an important community service by screening children in the age group not covered by government screening services.

This programme enables our students to gain valuable experience by working with children, making them better able to deal with their needs when they enter the workplace.

We are able to run research programmes in parallel with screening to better understand, for example, if all children are being equally well-served by the current system.

The future looks promising for continued expansion of this programme, as partnerships with additional schools, local optometrists, vendors, and others continue to be nurtured.

As part of the University of Auckland’s For All Our Futures fundraising campaign, the school is seeking to purchase and run a mobile optometry clinic. This would allow us to provide full on-site eye examinations and to expand our programme into more rural/under-served areas. 


Image of The NZFVC team (L-R): Co-Director Associate Professor Robyn Dixon (School of Nursing); Claire Gear; Nicola Paton, Gay Richards, Dr Pauline Gulliver, Co-Director Associate Professor Janet Fanslow, School of Population Health
The NZFVC team (L-R): Co-Director Associate Professor Robyn Dixon (School of Nursing); Claire Gear; Nicola Paton, Gay Richards, Dr Pauline Gulliver, Co-Director Associate Professor Janet Fanslow, School of Population Health

The University has developed the “Family Violence – It’s Not OK” campaign during the last 12 months to train staff to respond effectively to disclosures of family violence.

The workshop was facilitated by Trudie McNaugton (Pro Vice-Chancellor Equity) with presentations by Associate Professor Janet Fanslow (from the Domestic Violence Clearing House), Kylie Ryan (UoA Health and Counselling) and Graham Barnes (SHINE). 

SOVS Part IV students recently participated in the Family Violence workshop and received positive feedback from both the students and presenters.

Dr Nicola Anstice says that SOVS plans to add these workshops as a permanent part of the curriculum, which will ensure that our graduates are able to support victims of family violence in their practising career.

Read more

Important dates Event as iCalendar

The School of Optometry and Vision Science closes on Thursday 22 December for the Christmas holidays.

We reopen on Wednesday 4 January although many staff will return later in the month.

We thank you for your interest in and support of the School in 2016 and wish you a very Happy Christmas and New Year!