Sidra Sarwat, a UNSW PhD student, has received the 2020 Joe and Janet Barr Early Career Cornea and Contact Lens Research Award from the American Academy of Optometry Foundation (AAOF) for “extraordinary contributions to optometry and contact lenses”. The award includes a US$2,000 grant to help fund Ms Sarwat’s research project titled ‘In vivo labelling and bioimaging of the tear film using silicon quantum dots’.
Passion for Health Since Childhood
After graduating from Rawalpindi Medical College, Rawalpindi, Pakistan in 2014, Ms Sarwat gained invaluable clinical skills and experience as an intern at Fauji Foundation Hospital Rawalpindi and also worked as an optometrist at the Al-Shifa Center for Community Ophthalmology, Rawalpindi.
In 2017 Ms Sarwat left Pakistan to complete her Master of Optometry in Australia in order to “achieve advanced and in-depth knowledge of research in a diversified and multicultural research environment,” she said. Ms Sarwat is currently undertaking her PhD at the UNSW School of Optometry and Vision Science under the supervision of Dr Maitreyee Roy, Scientia Professor Fiona Stapleton, Professor Mark Willcox and Professor Richard Tilley.
Having wanted to become a medical professional since childhood, Ms Sarwat said she feels fulfilled being able to work in the field of optometry to improve the wellbeing of others. “Optometrists are ophthalmic professionals who give their services by providing light to the blind and are an important part of an eye care team. Keeping this perspective in mind, whatever knowledge I gain or opportunities I conquer, will be dedicated for the betterment of the community affected by eye diseases,” said Ms Sarwat.
Upon receiving the 2020 Joe and Janet Barr Early Career Cornea and Contact Lens Research Award, Ms Sarwat acknowledged the importance of the award in supporting early career researchers and providing “an avenue to create opportunities for future optometric leaders and scientists”.
Ms Sarwat’s interest in pursuing an academic path was sparked by a research project conducted about the prevalence of ring-shaped cataracts among the TNT exposed population of Pakistan.
“My PhD project involves application of optimised quantum dots in rabbits and the monitoring of turnover of tear film using the fluorescence patterning of quantum dots. This project involves synthesis of quantum dots (nanoparticles), the characterisation of their fluorescence patterns and understanding their performance in an animal model,” said Ms Sarwat.
“This is likely to contribute to the understanding of effective drug delivery methods for dry eye disease, one of the most common ocular conditions affecting up to 50% of a population and the most reported reason for seeking eye care.”
This seed funding will not only encourage me to enhance my knowledge but will also help to answer research questions related to my project. This will also enable me to excel in education, research and clinical practice and eventually shape the profession of optometry
Ms Sarwat will use the funding from her award to formulate silicon nanoparticles and visualise tear film lipids in an animal model in order to gain a better understanding of tear film dynamics and improve drug delivery systems for dry eye disease.
“Study of the dynamics of the tear film will enable a greater understanding of its role in dry eye disease. It is opportune to design new ways of examining the tear film and its turn-over in normal and dry eyes.
“This may lead to the development of a novel drug delivery system for the treatment of dry eye disease.”
Ms Sarwat intends for the results from her project to be presented at national and international conferences and, beyond that, she hopes to secure an opportunity to continue her work as a postdoctoral and expand the research.
“This seed funding will not only encourage me to enhance my knowledge but will also help to answer research questions related to my project. This will also enable me to excel in education, research and clinical practice and eventually shape the profession of optometry.”
Ms Sarwat will also receive a $750 travel fellowship to attend the American Academy of Optometry meeting.