The project Harmonisation of Western Australia multi-site optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA) datasets for new biomarker discovery and application in diabetic retinopathy, funded by Diabetes Research WA, aims to introduce and validate a data analysis framework so datasets from multiple clinics in Western Australia can be combined and analysed to identify more sensitive biomarkers of diabetic retinopathy.

The Research Team

The project is led by Dr Danka Sampson from Lions Eye Institute and the University of Western Australia and supported by co-investigators A/Prof. Fred Chen (Lions Eye Institute), A/Prof. Angus Turner (Lions Outback Vision), Dr Jeremiah Lim (University of Western Australia) and Dr Mark Chia (University College London).


In Australia, diabetes affects more than 1.7 million (1 in 20). In Western Australia alone, there are more than 128,000 people now diagnosed with diabetes. For every person diagnosed, it is estimated that there is another person who has diabetes but does not know it yet.


What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a serious eye problem that can develop in people with diabetes. DR can damage the microvasculature (the smallest vessels in the internal layer of the eye) even before people experience a decline in their vision. The early detection of vessel damage can prevent severe vision loss. However, there is a lack of sensitive diagnostic tools and biomarkers (medical signs of disease) to detect the early onset of microvascular damage.


Creating Big OCTA Data sets

Optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA) has been increasingly used to diagnose eye diseases as a safe and quick test for assessing the eye’s smallest blood vessels. Compared to other instruments in the eye clinic, OCTA images the blood vessels non-invasively and with high resolution. The technique is gaining momentum in the standard of care.

Critical barriers to widespread usage include the lack of a large normative dataset of OCTA parameters. Big datasets can be achieved by combining data from multiple clinics. However, this is not a trivial task due to non-biological variations introduced during data collection across multiple sites and differences in OCTA cameras.

To reduce variability, this study will first develop and validate a data analysis framework to harmonise OCTA datasets collected at different Western Australian clinics. The harmonised datasets will be used to generate preliminary data on OCTA-derived microvascular biomarkers in DR in Western Australians. This will enable the study, prevention, treatment and monitoring of this common eye disease.

In the sphere of medical research, where each breakthrough hinges on a wealth of diverse perspectives, the role of inclusivity is paramount. At Diabetes Research Western Australia, we are committed to the invaluable contributions of women in the sciences, particularly in our unwavering quest to find solutions for diabetes—a condition that affects millions globally.

Our recent grant awardees, Dr Lakshini Herat and Dr Danka Sampson, exemplify the beacon for the cause, their achievements underscoring the crucial need to inspire and embolden young women to immerse themselves in STEM subjects. Their journey is not simply one of personal or professional accomplishment; it is a beacon for what can be achieved when opportunities are equitable and diverse voices are heard.

Dr Herat speaks passionately about this, asserting,

“Science thrives on fresh perspectives—it’s the lifeblood of innovation. I was fortunate to have mentors who believed in this principle, and now, it’s my turn to encourage young women that their curiosity and intellect can catalyse the next wave of scientific discovery.”

Dr Sampson echoes this sentiment, stating,

“My zeal for medical research is matched only by my commitment to foster a learning environment where young girls envisage themselves not just as participants, but as leaders in science.”

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us pledge to not only honour the strides made by women like Dr Herat and Dr Sampson but also to actively create an environment where young women are motivated to choose and excel in STEM subjects. Let this day serve as a reminder that their choices will shape the future of medical research and, indeed, the well-being of humanity.

In nurturing such an environment, we do more than empower individuals—we fortify the very fabric of our scientific community. The route to a world without diabetes is laid with the skills, insights, and innovations that all scientists bring to STEM fields.

At Diabetes Research Western Australia, we stand dedicated to this cause, steadfast in our support for the brilliant young women who will lead us into a healthier tomorrow.