During December 2023 to January 2024, our ‘Summer of Vision Science’ at the Save Sight Institute (SSI) (University of Sydney, Sydney Hospital/Sydney Eye Hospital) welcomed a large and super-energetic group of students from UNSW Medicine and Health (Vision Science and Optometry: Carmen (Ying Lam) Chan, Mai Khan Truong, Kelvin Huang, Jennifer Du, Chi Yang (Corliss) Yue, Merna Matti, Rita Bayadh, Brendon Yue, Justin McNamara, Blake McCarren, Stephanie Su, Jessie Ye, Ryan Nguyen, Jiwon Hu, Jayden Ta, Jian Lan (Claire) Guo), Natasha Nicholas, Rebekah Nehme and Katrina Meng), UNSW Science (Angelic Tran), Western Sydney University Medicine (Claudia Tiong) and Sydney University (Merna Bayadh).

This year the program involved A/Professor Michele Madigan (UNSW and SSI), and excellent support from SSI and Lions NSW Eye Bank colleagues. The program provided great opportunities for our students to visit SSI and Sydney Eye/Sydney Hospital groups, and try first-hand vision science laboratory techniques plus learn more about real-life clinical vision science.

In the laboratory, there were hands-on activities including eye dissection, paraffin embedding and sectioning, tissue culture and live cell imaging, immunocytochemistry, gel electrophoresis, and eye pathology. The students visualised and imaged tissues and cells using state-of-art Zeiss laser confocal and axioimager microscopy systems. In between, there were plenty of discussions around eye anatomy and diseases, clinical and vision science research, and career pathways, plus good lunches in and around Macquarie Street.

We ventured across to the Uni. Sydney ATP Redfern Campus, to the SSI Laboratory (Biomedical Building) and enjoyed an afternoon with human retinal researchers, Drs Ling Zhu and Shaoxue Zeng, and the Macula Research Group team. This included an insightful Q&A session on the journey from bench science to real world applications, including novel nanoparticle-based eye therapies.

A regular highlight of summer @SSI is a visit to the Lions NSW Eye Bank and NSW Tissue Bank (Sydney Hospital/Sydney Eye Hospital). This highlighted the importance of organ and tissue donation, and the processes in tissue examination, organ culture, and the preparation of human donor corneas for transplantation.

A great interactive session on retinal neuroanatomy research was run by PhD candidate, Ms Alyssa Baldicano, from the Retinal Networks Group (A/Prof Ulrike Grunnert and Prof. Paul Martin). Alyssa shared her research journey including Honours, plus PhD research in retinal neuroanatomy, including how to identify retinal neurons combining intracellular injections with advanced imaging and rendering techniques. There was lively discussion on the value of attending conferences as a research student, plus amazing images and details of Alyssa’s research, presented at the Australia Neuroscience Society meeting.

Jonathan Nguyen, an orthoptist from the SSI Clinical Trials Group discussed careers in vision science, plus gave a demonstration on preparing clinical trial blood samples for further analysis. The students also had a wonderful morning in the SSI Clinic and Electrophysiology suite, coordinated by orthoptists, Jacinta Walz (previous UNSW Honours) and Stephanie Rozos. Electrophysiology helps to understand how retinal and optic nerve disease can disrupt visual function; this generated great interest, including a clinical ‘shadowing’ opportunity in February.

A few final student thoughts and ‘eyelights’ of a Summer of Vision Science.

“Thank you for giving us this opportunity to learn and explore the greater field of vision science. We appreciate … connecting all the other researchers to give us better insights besides lab-work…”;
“Thank you so much for this experience! I already knew I wanted to go into research, but this program just confirmed my goals.”;
“ ... it was a wonderful time to learn more about research and culturing cells.
“ I am thankful for this opportunity … to delve into the world of research and your world at the eye lab.”