Orthoptists at the heart of vision research

Meet some of the orthoptists playing a critical role in facilitating research at CERA.


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Orthoptists are often the first health professionals a patient sees at an eye hospital – they check how well eyes are working and make early assessments that are important for finding the right treatment.

Outside of hospitals and eye clinics, they also play a critical role in running studies on new treatments for eye disease, as well as ensuring the volunteer participants who make these studies possible have a great experience.

World Orthoptic Day (3 June) is when we celebrate and raise awareness of their contributions to every part of healthcare and research.

Future of clinical trials

CEO of Cerulea Clinical Trials Michelle Gallaher started her career as an orthoptist because she always wanted to work in a profession that involved caring for people.

“I also love science and saw orthoptics as a pathway to an environment where I could thrive,” she says.

After graduating from the Lincoln Institute of Health Sciences, Michelle practiced as an orthoptist for two years at Greenslopes Repat Hospital in Brisbane before becoming a study coordinator for an ophthalmic clinical trial.

“I’d never even heard of the term ‘clinical trials’ at the time,” Michelle says.

She took these early experiences through her career as an executive in public and private biotechnology companies and major national research centres, and has recently returned to her roots at Cerulea.

The opportunities for orthoptists have changed a lot in that time.

“When I graduated, research wasn’t a pathway for orthoptists,” says Michelle.

“Most of Cerulea’s study coordinators are orthoptists, and it’s fantastic to see orthoptists being valued in research,” she says.

Michelle says orthoptists bring a synergy of skills and empathy to clinical trials.

“It’s like we’re making a difference on two levels: being part of cutting-edge therapies that could potentially restore vision and building very personal connections with participants who are often living with low vision.

“There’s a real generosity of spirit between orthoptist and participant that is quite unique to clinical trials.”

Better experience: Clinical Trial Coordinator Nikita Thomas images a participant’s eyes.
A better eye health journey

Nikita Thomas is an orthoptist and Clinical Trial Coordinator in CERA’s Retinal Gene Therapy Team.

After graduating from La Trobe University and working in clinics, Nikita was soon drawn to research.

She landed a role at CERA as a Clinical Trials Coordinator, working in Macular Research before moving into Retinal Gene Therapy.

“Working as an orthoptist in clinics taught me how to create a bond with people in the limited time we had,” says Nikita.

“And how to make them feel comfortable in their vision journey.”

Nikita often sees participants for up to three hours at a time and says it is vital to create a relationship with participants where they feel safe, heard and seen.

“Being a clinical trials coordinator is more than about running a study. It’s about being there for participants – letting them ask the hard questions and asking them about their lives.

Nikita says the most rewarding thing being orthoptist in research is creating a better eye health journey for patients.

“That’s the stuff that keeps me going in research.”

Making trials more accessible

Orthoptists also contribute to vision research in other ways.

Retinal Gene Therapy Research Manager Fleur O’Hare says her interest in orthoptics was sparked early when she attended the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital with a family member being treated for an eye condition.

She studied orthoptics at La Trobe University before working as a graduate at a busy eye clinic. Fleur wanted a role where she could spend more time working with patients and joined CERA.

“I was able to give people more information about how their eyes are tracking, in a language they understand, which was really enriching for me,” she says.

Over the years, Fleur has worked on groundbreaking studies in glaucoma, the Bionic Eye and inherited retinal diseases.

More recently, she has managed clinical trials in the Retinal Gene Therapy team but is now focused on further improving the trials experience.

“My priority is ensuring participants are treated with care and helping them make an informed decision about taking part,” she says.

There is a lot of important information people need to know before taking part in a clinical trial.

Fleur is working with participants, researchers and CERA Consumer Involvement and Advocacy Lead Kelly Schulz to ensure this information is easily understood by people and can be read or accessed at all vision levels.

“Once we have more accessible documentation, we can look at providing people with more options of receiving that information, such as audio or video.”

These contributions, as well as so many others, are a reason to celebrate orthoptists on World Orthoptic Day.

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