CERA research fellow Dr Zhichao Wu
With new funding from the Macular Disease Foundation Australia, CERA research fellow Dr Zhichao Wu is investigating better methods for predicting whether a patient’s AMD is likely to advance.
AMD occurs when the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye break down, leading to loss of central vision. This can make it difficult to read, recognise faces, drive and perform other everyday activities.
One in seven Australians over the age of 50 has early signs of AMD, putting them at risk of developing vision-threatening complications.
This includes wet AMD – a form of late-stage AMD in which abnormal blood vessels grow inside the eye. This can lead to spontaneous fluid leakage or bleeding, resulting in vision loss.
“While treatments for wet AMD are now available and work well if initiated quickly, these complications are often detected too late,” Dr Wu says.
“Early detection of these changes can be achieved through more frequent monitoring, but much better methods are needed to identify high-risk individuals where this is warranted.”
The potential of modern imaging and artificial intelligence
For this new project, Dr Wu is investigating better methods to help identify patients who are more likely to progress to later stages of AMD.
This involves the use of optical coherence tomography (OCT), a powerful imaging technique, and artificial intelligence.
Over three years, Dr Wu and his colleagues will collect OCT and OCT angiography (OCTA) images from 200 people with intermediate AMD. These patients will then be reviewed to determine the development of wet AMD.
Artificial intelligence technology will also be used to analyse the wealth of information available in these scans.
“Modern imaging methods and artificial intelligence show promise for providing powerful new ways of identifying high-risk individuals, and thus we are seeking to determine their potential value,” Dr Wu says.
“The findings from this project could substantially improve our ability to detect this devastating AMD complication and ensure early treatments are initiated to achieve better long-term visual outcomes.”
This study builds on previous research Dr Wu conducted using data from the Laser Intervention in Early Age-Related Macular Degeneration (LEAD) trial.
Support from the Macular Disease Foundation Australia
Dr Wu is grateful for the support of the Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA), who announced the grant at an event celebrating World Sight Day on 10 October.
“This funding from MDFA will provide us with the necessary resources to recruit 200 participants and use this new imaging technology,” he says.
“Together with the learnings from previous studies and this new imaging, we hope to transform how well we can predict who is more or less likely to progress from the early stages of AMD.
“This study has the potential to provide findings that are immediately translatable into clinical practice, improving long-term visual outcomes.”