Turning images into numbers
Biostatisticians and data managers play a critical role in helping researchers make sense of massive amounts of information.
Modern technology allows researchers to see minute details within an eye’s layers, yielding massive amounts of data.
“This helps researchers understand how the eye works and how eyes change over time,” explains CERA biostatistician Dr Myra McGuinness.
“With all this data, we need to be innovative to be able to turn those images into numbers, and then use sophisticated statistical methods to make sense of all those numbers.”
As data becomes more complex, Dr McGuinness and her colleague Research Technology Manager Nicole Tindill, play an increasingly important role in CERA’s research.
Their specialist skills are crucial in developing research systems and analysing material such as eye scans and patient questionnaires. They support projects from start to finish, analysing data at the design, execution, completion and translation stages.
Keeping data secure
Security is paramount and constantly reviewed, requiring frequent collaboration with legal and governance colleagues to ensure integrity and privacy are maintained.
Ms Tindill manages numerous electronic data systems that host several terabytes of clinical data.
“We are the first site in Australia to have implemented OpenEyes, an open-source electronic medical record system developed specifically for ophthalmology,” she says.
In 2019, CERA centralised its data management services and invested in specialised statistical software to be rolled out to all researchers in early 2020.
Following a successful pilot, Ms Tindill also plans to develop a new platform to attract and make it easier for patients to learn about and join clinical and research trials.
“We would now like to expand this database to allow anyone in Australia to register their interest with us and be informed of new eye research developments,” she says.
Dr McGuinness says research participants, who volunteer their time for the greater good, are at the crux of everything CERA does.
“We show our respect to those participants by making the most of the valuable information they give to us,” she says.
Ms Tindill says this means developing the best possible systems.
“Our aim is to provide researchers with support, easy to use systems and robust data management processes that allow them to focus more on the research and not be overwhelmed by managing their data.”
Seeing the people behind the stats
CERA’s biostatistician Dr Myra McGuinness is also a registered orthoptist who previously specialised in strabismus and amblyopia.
While her job is to analyse data from CERA studies, Dr McGuinness says her clinical training as an orthoptist has been invaluable in her work.
“I associate each number with a real person that I have seen in the clinic, and that brings great meaning to my work,” she says.
Nicole Tindill previously worked at Nature Publishing Group, an international scientific and medical publisher, as a technical lead for online scientific publications.
“I am inspired by CERA’s ability to improve people’s quality of life through saving sight and energised by the opportunity to implement emerging technology which strengthens the quality of our research data,” she says.