Sharing sight-saving research in Christchurch
University of Auckland research fellows (L-R) Drs Jane Shi, Hannah Ng, Joevy Lim, Lize Angelo, Natalie Allen, Veerle Van Severen and Waikato's Dr Sarah Oh

Sharing sight-saving research in Christchurch

November 18, 2023 Dr Natalie Allen

A sunny spring morning welcomed us to Hagley Oval cricket ground for a full day of academic presentations curated by Drs Oliver Comyn and Liz Conner for Save Sight Society’s annual conference. A multitude of excellent speakers, outstanding weather, generous sponsorship and an overindulgence in cream donuts all made for a highly successful conference (though perhaps the latter was just me!).


Auckland-based vitreoretinal specialist Dr Sarah Welch began proceedings with an eye-opening lecture on the degree of waste generated by ophthalmic surgery. Fellow vitreoretinal specialist and Save Sight Society chair Dr Comyn then provided a fascinating update on the future of bionic retinal implants, cautioning it may be some decades before we can offer patients an eye transplant of the quality seen in science fiction! Dr Hannah Ng, a junior research fellow under the supervision of Dr Rachael Niederer at the University of Auckland (UoA), presented a study demonstrating the need to evaluate all patients with sarcoidosis for uveitis, due to high prevalence in this group, and Waikato corneal specialist Dr James McKelvie discussed novel technology to improve surgical record-keeping efficiency.


Dr Graham Wilson made the trip from Gisborne to inform us of the groundbreaking research into ocular changes associated with dementia, which was both insightful and sobering. An equity-based theme then emerged, with Isaac Samuels and Drs Tiwini Hemi and Lize Angelo from UoA presenting on reducing inequities in eye health care for Māori through framework and access to crosslinking services. I presented on the potential link between Covid-19 vaccination and corneal graft rejection, which was followed by another UoA PhD candidate, Dian Zhuang, who spoke about her research under Dr Stuti Misra around tear inflammatory markers. Returning with fresh enthusiasm from his fellowship, Christchurch-based glaucoma specialist Dr Dickson Wong gave a hilarious and honest lecture on the new glaucoma tube technologies available. Only time will tell how well they work, but I’m sure Dr Wong will update us when more is known.


Save Sight Society conference organisers Drs Oliver Comyn and Liz Conner


Drs Wilson and Sean Every gave very moving tributes to the late Professor Anthony Molteno, inventor of the famed Molteno implant used in glaucoma surgery. ‘Molty’ was by all accounts a genius, a polymath and a gift to ophthalmology across the globe.


Afternoon delights


In the afternoon we fought against the sounds of birds and lawnmowers to appreciate a fascinating lecture from Dr Verona Botha, an oculoplastic specialist in the Waikato. She presented an oculoplastic update, including some interesting information on the management of sight-threatening thyroid eye disease with mycophenolate. Dr Botha also spoke about a surgical technique for decompressing patients with severe exophthalmos. Although the traditional method involves removing bone from the orbit, removing only the fat and leaving the bone intact has shown excellent efficacy with fewer complications, she said.


Sticking with oculoplastics, Dr Sarah Oh presented a horrifying case of necrotising Group A streptococcal (GAS) infection of the eyelid. Fortunately, the patient made a full recovery. Janice Yeoman, an optometrist and PhD candidate from Auckland, presented the preliminary results of her study on oculoprosthesis rehabilitation, which was funded by a Save Sight Society research grant and the Health Research Council of New Zealand. Christchurch optometrist Andrew Kim then gave a fascinating lecture on how far a patient’s vision can be improved with bespoke contact lenses.


After a scrumptious afternoon tea, we ended the day with paediatrics. Dr Cheefoong Chong, a paediatric specialist working in Tauranga, Waikato and Auckland, shared how well some awful cases of retinoblastoma can be treated, emphasising the importance of early referral to paediatric ophthalmology prior to proceeding with enucleation. Christchurch’s Dr Cam Loveridge-Easther discussed the correlation between neonatal jaundice and vision loss, while paediatric specialist Dr Conner discussed her fellowship protocol enabling fluorescein angiography in children. This was very impressive, especially since some of those children were neonates!


After a busy day, we enjoyed some casual drinks before heading our different ways across the cricket grounds. It was excellent to meet so many of the country’s inspiring eye professionals. I hope to see everyone again in 2024!


Dr Natalie Allen is the Maurice & Phyllis Paykel Trust clinical research fellow and a PhD candidate at the University of Auckland, supervised by Professor Charles McGhee and Drs Rachael Niederer, Akilesh Gokul and Jie Zhang.