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Dr Lauren Ayton   Photo: University of Melbourne

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By Helen Carter
Journalist

 

After publishing in scientific journals for many years, Lauren Ayton was keen to see the other side of publishing and become involved in Clinical and Experimental Optometry.

A strong childhood memory and a biology teacher who cemented her love of science led Dr Ayton to pursue a career in optometry, then a move into vision research and now publishing.

Dr Ayton is one of a group of young associate editors for Clinical and Experimental Optometry, one of the world’s top three optometry journals. In this role she helps evaluate and review papers for Optometry Australia’s scientific journal.

Her younger brother, Michael, had amblyopia and strabismus as a child and she remembers the awe of watching his improvement under his optometrist’s care. ‘I love the fact that optometry can provide such significant improvements in the quality of life for people,’ Dr Ayton said.

She is also a leader in research on low vision, retinal disease and the ground-breaking bionic eye projects. She is the Bionic Eye Clinical Research Team Leader at the Centre for Eye Research Australia, a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Surgery (Ophthalmology) at the University of Melbourne, and a Clinical Chief Investigator in the Monash Vision Group, which is also developing a bionic eye.

Dr Ayton is a passionate science communicator who presents on 3RRR and ABC radio, is a guest editor for several international vision science journals, and has published more than 50 papers, articles and text book chapters.

Apart from research, she practises part-time as a clinical optometrist at Cochrane and Debney Optometrists in Eltham and in the Treatment-Ready, Research-Ready Eye Clinic at CERA.

Something for everyone in CXO

‘I love the variation in my day and the fact that academia exposes you to so many interesting people and ideas. I am constantly learning and trying new things, and feel honoured that I am able to try to answer some of the questions that arise from my clinical work as an optometrist,’ Dr Ayton said.

‘When I was an undergraduate student, Clinical and Experimental Optometry was my first exposure to research and was partly responsible for my growing interest in the field of academia.

‘I have always loved the combination of clinical case reports and basic research that CXO reports; there is really something for everyone. It is important that optometrists keep up to date with the latest in evidence-based medicine, and Clinical and Experimental Optometry does a marvellous job at providing that evidence.’

‘While I had been thinking of becoming involved with the journal for a while, I hadn’t approached the journal, but ran into Editor in Chief Professor Barry Collin at a science communication event at which I was speaking. Things fell into place and I have now been an associate editor for more than a year,’ she said.

‘I enjoy being the first to read some of the newest and most exciting science out. It is also beneficial to my career as I am able to learn more about the process of journal editing, reviews and publication, and I think this has improved my own research publications.’

Blood, sweat and tears

‘Every article we receive represents hours and hours of blood, sweat and tears by the authors, and it is our duty to make sure every article gets the full respect and consideration it requires,’ Dr Ayton said.

‘Being a researcher as well as an optometrist helps you decide which papers might be of interest. While some papers might be of interest to an academic in the specific area, it is important that Clinical and Experimental Optometry presents a broad range of work, so I am always looking at papers with our audience in mind.

‘I like being able to contribute to our field and to an Australian journal in particular.’

Dr Ayton spent most of her childhood in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne and was fortunate to have parents with diverse interests.

‘Dad is an engineer and Mum is an artist so I was never sure which way I would go,’ she said. ‘I originally wanted to be a journalist but had an amazing biology teacher at Beaconhills College who inspired me and cemented my love of science.’

Dr Ayton graduated with a Bachelor of Optometry from the University of Melbourne in 2004, and worked at the Australian College of Optometry before starting a PhD investigating eye movement abnormalities and educational performance in children, supervised by Dr Larry Abel, Timothy Fricke and Professor Neville McBrien.

‘I was lucky to continue to work with Larry for my postdoctoral training, studying eye movement dysfunction in children following traumatic brain injury,’ she said.

‘This study showed that there were certain differences in eye movements following such injuries, and that this may be a useful way to diagnose and monitor children to maximise outcomes.’

Bionic eye

In 2009, Dr Ayton moved to CERA for a role with the Bionic Vision Australia project.

‘BVA has developed, built and completed a world-first clinical trial on a suprachoroidal retinal prosthesis, which aims to restore basic vision to people with profound vision loss from retinal disease,’ she said.

‘I am the Clinical Research Team Leader for this work, and a Chief Investigator with the Monash Vision Group’s cortical vision prosthesis project. Both of these programs are aiming to have further clinical trials in the next few years, and I am very lucky to be involved in such exciting and ground-breaking work.’

Her main areas of research are retinal disease, especially retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration, low vision, bionic eyes and vision restoration. These are the areas in which she generally reviews Clinical and Experimental Optometry papers but she also reviews case reports and clinical studies, which often involve her clinical knowledge as much as academic credentials.

‘I started at the beginning of 2016 and have reviewed more than 35 papers in various areas but mostly in low vision and retinal eye disease. I am especially enjoying some of the interesting case reports of rare eye diseases and conditions,’ she said.

‘I strongly recommend that optometrists take the opportunities to become involved in different aspects of our profession, such as referring patients to clinical trials, and keeping up to date with the newest research advances via Clinical and Experimental Optometry and other journals.

‘It makes your professional life much more rewarding when you can provide the most up-to-date and cutting-edge advice to your patients.’

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