Associate Professor Gordon Sanderson’s research is in the field of ophthalmology – a scientific field of study that is concerned with anatomy, physiology and diseases of the eye.
Specialists in the field of Ophthalmology are called ophthalmologists, and since they are medical doctors qualified to perform operations on eyes, they are regarded as both surgical and medical specialists. Optometrists are healthcare professionals who are qualified to examine clients’ eyes and visual systems to diagnose vision problems and eye diseases. They provide correction and other treatment when required.
A key part of this research is involved in creating a screening test that can help identify glaucoma – one of the leading causes of preventable blindness.
Glaucoma is the name for a group of eye conditions that may cause damage to the optic nerve, which carries visual information from the eye to the brain.
Glaucoma is ‘silent’ – this means that people do not notice changes in their vision early on before glaucoma has damaged an eye permanently. To screen for glaucoma, Gordon uses a multifocal electroretinogram (ERG) to identify changes in the eye early on and so allow patients to be treated before their sight deteriorates.
The ERG uses the same principle as the ECG electrocardiogram and the EEG. The ECG looks at electrical signals from the heart, and the EEG looks at electrical signals in the brain. Gordon is studying how changes in the electrical signals of the retina of the eye may enable glaucoma to be diagnosed early.
Supporting blind people
Gordon is passionate about stopping preventable blindness. He describes this as a “disaster that changes someone’s whole life forever”. He has been chairman of the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind and among other things, acted as an advocate for ‘talking lifts’. Talking lifts tell you what floor you are on and allow blind people to independently find their way around multi-storey buildings.
He also advocated for the provision of books for blind children to use at school, whether this be translating books into Braille or having talking books as resources to be used in the classroom. He has helped develop special New Zealand vision testing charts that use the Māori alphabet, rather than the full English alphabet.
Curiously, Gordon is also interested in ocular forensics, which involves understanding how people’s ophthalmic status may help solve crimes they are involved in, either by identifying victims or offenders. He says often a basic understanding of people’s vision helps identify what they would be capable of doing and can help to place someone at the scene of a crime.
Find out more about glaucoma.