New Visual Function Tests to Enable Treatment Trials of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Zhichao Wu, PhD
Centre for Eye Research Australia (Melbourne, Australia)
Year Awarded:
Grant Duration:
July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2021
Macular Degeneration
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Zhichao Wu, PhD

Enabling Treatment Trials of Atrophic Age-Related Macular Degeneration Using Novel Microperimetry Techniques


The loss of tissue responsible for vision is a complication of the condition called age-related macular degeneration that remains untreatable. To help the discovery of new treatments, better ways of measuring whether a potential treatment is actually having a meaningful positive effect is needed. This project therefore examines whether a new method to measure the ability to perceive different light levels within the area where tissue loss is occurring could help us better evaluate promising new treatments.


The overall aim of this project is to develop a powerful new vision tests to accurately capture the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) so that it can be used to evaluate new treatments in this condition. Specifically, we will evaluate two different approaches on a technique called “microperimetry”, a test that measures one’s ability to detect different light levels, that are tailored to the specific stage of the disease. The first approach will involve mapping the spatial extent of central light sensitivity vision loss, and this approach will be compared to conventional imaging-based measurements, in eyes with established signs of atrophic AMD (where patches of tissue responsible for vision inside the eye are lost). The second approach will involve high-density, targeted light sensitivity measurements of the areas showing the earliest signs of atrophic AMD, as there is currently no effective means of tracking the functional loss of these earliest signs. These approaches that will be evaluated are unique as they will be tailored to the specific stage of the disease process in AMD. Furthermore, these approaches innovatively exploit the high-level of precision afforded by the new technique of microperimetry to accurately track disease progression in these individuals with atrophic AMD. The findings of this project will provide a framework that can be immediately used to evaluate new interventions that are currently being developed. This framework has the potential to dramatically reduce the sample size needed for clinical trials of these new interventions, thereby making them more feasible and acting as a catalyst for the discovery of a first intervention for atrophic AMD.

About the Researcher

Dr Wu is an optometrist and clinical researcher who completed his PhD at the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA), developing and evaluating novel clinical biomarkers for the early stages of age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of irreversible vision loss worldwide. He was awarded the Dean’s Award for Excellence in the PhD Thesis, and subsequently continued pursuing research in the development of novel clinical biomarkers in glaucoma, another leading cause of vision loss. He was awarded the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Neil Hamilton Fairley Overseas Clinical Research Fellowship for this work, which provided him with the opportunity to work with internationally renowned leaders in this field at the University of California, San Diego and Columbia University. He has returned to CERA in 2018 to further research in the development of improved clinical structural and functional biomarkers for the early stages of blinding eye diseases, with the hope of using them to expedite clinical trials of emerging treatments and to improve the clinical management of these diseases.

Personal Story

Dr Wu decided to pursue research after practicing as an optometrist and seeing first-hand the impact of vision loss for those with the age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and feeling the frustration that there are currently no effective treatments for those with the early or atrophic form of the disease. He hopes that through this project and the others that he is currently undertaking that we will finally discover such a treatment, so that AMD will no longer become the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in this world. He is incredibly grateful for all those that have and continue to support the BrightFocus Foundation, which makes work such as this possible.

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