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Dr Julie Albon

Dr Julie Albon

Senior Lecturer, Deputy Director of Research, Optic Nerve Head Group Leader, HTA Person designate for Cathays Park HTA satellite licence

School of Optometry and Vision Sciences

Email
albonj@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 29208 75427
Campuses
Room 2.29, Maindy Road, Optometry and Vision Sciences, Maindy Road, Cathays, Cardiff, CF24 4HQ
Users
Available for postgraduate supervision

Overview

I am a Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of Research within the School of Optometry & Vision Sciences, within the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences.

Current research focuses on investigating the in vivo and ex vivo human optic nerve head (ONH), in particular the lamina cribrosa and its insertion region into the sclera, with an overall aim to i) understand how ONH structure and connective tissue micro- and nano-organisation influences a) its biomechanics and b) susceptibility to the development of glaucomatous optic neuropathy.

We use a number of ex vivo and in vivo techniques to analyse the cells and connective tissue (collagen, elastin and proteoglycans) and overall architecture of the 3D optic nerve head (non-linear microscopy, xray microtomography, optical coherence tomography) alters in ageing and glaucoma. In addition, we are investigating the regional micro- and nano-organisation of connective tissue fibres, collagen and elastin (SAXS, SALS, second harmonic generation imaging, two photon excited fluorescence, spectral imaging) in the ONH, and how these influence the biomechanical behaviour (including micromechanics) of the human ONH in response to stress and strain.

Biography

Education

I undertook a BSc in Applied Biological Sciences at Bristol Polytechnic between 1985-1989. In the third year of this degree I worked in the Corneal Transplant Service Bristol Eye Bank at the University of Bristol, where I became aware of procedures associated with corneal donation and procurement, and learned how to organ culture donor human corneas in preparation for corneal transplantation.

This triggered my interest in ocular research and in 1989, I became a Research Assistant at the Department of Opthalmology in the Bristol University, working with Professor David Easty, Dr Wojciech Karwatowski, Dr Tracy Jeffries and Professor Vic Duance to investigate collagen and cross-linking in the ageing Bruch's membrane. This then led to me undertaking a PhD Investigation (1990-1995) into the age-related changes in the extracellular matrix of the human lamina cribrosa with Dr Wojciech Karwatowski and Professor Vic Duance in a collaborative project between Ophthamology and the Collagen Research Group based in Langford.

Following my PhD, I worked at the Manchester Eye Bank within the Manchester NHS Healthcare Trust as a Senior Clinical Scientist from 1995-1999, and was an Honorary Lecturer in Ophthamology at Manchester University. Here I began undertaking research related to corneas stored for transplantation and developed an interest in stem cell biology.

In March 1999, I returned to full-time research, working as Research Associate with Professor Mike Boulton within the School of Optometry & Vision Sciences at Cardiff University, and became a Lecturer and later a Senior Lecturer in 2016. In Cardiff, I continued investigations into corneal stem cells and matrix in wound healing, whilst also developing my PhD interests in matrix biology and bioindicators of optic nerve head susceptibility to the development of glaucomatous optic neuropathy.

Honours and awards

Outstanding Contribution Award, 2016

Cardiff University Research Fellowship, 2015-2016

Professional memberships

  • Member of Cardiff Institute of Tissue Engineering and Repair (2001-present)
  • Member of the British Society of Matrix Biology (1992-present)
  • Member of the UK and Eire Glaucoma Society (2010-present)
  • Member of European Biomechanics Society
  • Member of the Association for Research and Vision Sciences and Ophthalmology (ARVO)

Academic positions

  • 2016 - present Senior Lecturer, Cardiff University
  • 2000 - 2016    Lecturer, Cardiff University
  • 2015 - 2016    Cardiff University Research Fellowship
  • 1999 - 2000    Post-doctoral Research Associate, Cardiff University
  • 1995 - 1999    Senior Clinical Scientist, Eye Bank, Manchester Healthcare Trust                                                                                    (Honorary Lecturer, Department of Ophthalmology, Manchester University)

Speaking engagements

  • Imaging of the human optic nerve head; CITER Imaging Symposium, Cardiff, 2017
  • Human optic nerve head connective tissue, The Optic Nerve Meeting: The Ageing Optic Nerve 2015, Obergurgl, Austria.
  • Connective tissue microstructure in ageing and glaucomatous optic nerve head; UK and Eire Glaucoma Society Conference 2015, Leicester, UK
  • The optic nerve in 3D: Connective tissue in the young and old; ARVO 2013; Architecture of the Eye Symposium
  • Moderator of Biomechanics paper session, ARVO 2013
  • Stem cells in the eye. Stem Cell Symposium, CITER, Cardiff, 2003.
  • The artificial cornea and corneal transplantation. 1st meeting of the Cardiff Institute of Tissue-Engineering and Repair, Gregynog, Wales, 2003
  • Corneal transplantation and the artificial cornea, Mechanics in Medicine and Biology Conference, Limnos, Greece, 2002.
  • Eye Banking and Corneal Donation. South Western Ophthalmological Society, 2000.

Public engagement activities include:

  • Biology of the Eye workshop, Sight Cymru The Science of Vision (March 2021)
  • STEM ambassador (since 2010)
  • CITER conference engagement activities, Sept 2017.
  • Biology Rocks, National Museum, Cardiff, 2016.
  • Techniquest, 2015.
  • Monmouth Science Initiative, 2013, 2014: The Front & Back of the Eye involved practical-based histology, tear collection, microscopy and in vivo imaging techniques e.g. OCT, for sixth formers, 2 sessions per year.
  • Wellcome Trust Cardiff University Brain Games 2013, National Museum, Cardiff.
  • Monmouth Science Initiative, 2010, 2011: ‘In the Blink of an Eye’; practical-based sessions for high school students, delivered at Monmouth School.
  • Visual Neuroscience Research Institute Neuroscience activities, Techniquest, 2009

Committees and reviewing

University committees:

  • Cardiff University Genetic Modification Safety Committee (2010-present)
  • University Human Tissue Research Governance Committee (2020-present)
  • CITER Engagement Committee (2016-2017)
  • Cardiff Institute of Tissue Engineering and Repair Research Committee (2010-2013)
  • International Student Working Group (2013-2014)
  • Reviewer of human tissue research applications for Cardiff University Biobank (2020-present)

Within the School of Optometry & Vision Sciences:

  • Deputy Director of Research (2018-present)
  • Deputy/Acting Impact Lead (2016-present)
  • Member of Research committee (2012-present)
  • Reviewer of human tissue research applications for the Research Ethics Audit committee (present)
  • Viva Scientia Bioimaging Laboratories (VSBL) OPTOM Lead
  • Member of Research Ethics Audit committee (2008-2020; Chair (2012-2015) and Deputy Chair (2016-2019)
  • Member of Postgraduate Student Staff panel (2014-2015;2016-2017)
  • Member of postgraduate committee (2003-2008; 2012-2015)
  • Member of teaching and learning committee (2011-2013)
  • Member of Safety Committee and Biological Safety Officer (2000-2014)
  • BSc Board of studies
  • MSc Board of Studies
  • Erasmus Co-ordinator (2010-2015)

I have reviewed manuscripts for a number of journals:

  • Investigative Ophthalmology & Vision Sciences
  • PLOS One
  • Acta Biomaterialia
  • Experimental Eye Research
  • British Journal of Opthalmology
  • Journal of the Royal Society Interface
  • IEEE Transactions in Medical Imaging
  • Journal of Cataract & Refractive Surgery
  • Graefe’s Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology
  • JSM Ophthalmology

Reviewed grant applications including for Fight for Sight, National Eye Research Centre and Moorfield's Scientifc Advisory Panel.

Publications

2021

2020

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2007

2006

2004

2003

2000

1999

1997

1995

1994

Teaching

Undergraduate Teaching

I have been  a Module leader for 3 modules: Second year modules; Diagnostic Techniques and Pathology (2002-2005) and Optometric Science Practicals (2001-2005) and first year module; Cells to Systems (2004-present) in the BSc Optometry and Vision Sciences.

In Cells to System module, I provide lectures on cells, body systems and pathology, and also organise and supervise laboratory practical sessions and tutorials on adult stem cells, ageing, ocular pathology and wound healing.

Postgraduate

I have supervised/co-supervised 18 PhD students to successful award of PhD, and supervise WOPEC MSc Research Projects. I have examined a number of yearly continuation reports, examined a number of PhD students as an internal examiner, chaired PhD vivas and examined MSc thesis for UCL, Dublin, Ireland and PhD thesis for the University of Birmingham.

Throughout my research history I have studied the ageing of ocular tissues using a range of cell biology, biochemical and microscopy and bioimaging techniques. My research to date has focussed on the two opposites ends of the eye: the optic nerve head and the cornea! My PhD, at Bristol University, investigated how the different components (collagen, elastin, proteoglycans) of the human lamina cribrosa extracellular matrix altered with age, and their effect on its biomechanical behaviour. Following my time as a senior clinical scientist working in the Manchester Healthcare NHS Trust Corneal Transplant Service Eye Bank, an interest in the cornea developed. This led to research into the cells and extracellular matrix in corneal wound healing, the potential of organ culture stored corneal donor material for use in epithelial stem cell transplants, and factors involved in epithelial cell homeostasis (including Notch signalling).

My current research continues into the human optic nerve head, in particular the lamina cribrosa and its insertion region into the sclera, with an overall aim to understand how ONH structure and connective tissue micro- and nano-organisation influences a) its biomechanics and b) susceptibility to the development of glaucomatous optic neuropathy. This research involves a number in ex vivo and in vivo techniques to analyse the cells and connective tissue (collagen, elastin (elastic fibres) and proteoglycans), and overall architecture of the 3D optic nerve head (non-linear microscopy: second harmonic generation & two phoron excited fluorescence, spectral imaging, xray microtomography, OCT) in ageing and glaucoma. In addition, we are investigating the regional micro- and nano-organisation of connective tissue fibrils and fibres; collagen and elastin (SAXS, SALS, second harmonic imaging, two photon excited fluorescence) in the ONH, and how they influence the biomechanical behaviour of the human ONH.

We use optical coherence tomography techniques (1050nm, enhanced depth imaging) to generate 3D volumetric datasets of the normal and glaucomatous optic nerve head in vivo in order to characterise ONH parameters, including lamina cribrosa-derived features, that have potential in describing disease stage and/or prediction of glaucomatous optic neuropathy in ONHs at risk. We also evaluate  the relationship of ONH features to those in the retina.

The overall aim of my research is to identify changes in the ONH and/or retinal structure that can be used to predict and/or stage the development of open angle glaucoma i.e. to evaluate biomarkers as indicators of disease. This is in conjunction with a long term aim to develop therapies that can be applied at critical times before onset or at early onset of disease in order to prevent retinal ganglion cell axon degeneration and vision loss. In collaboration with Professor Dave Marshall in the School of Computer Sciences and Informatics (https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/people/view/118142-marshall-david), we are probing human ONH image datasets using machine learning and feature extraction techniques to detect differences between glaucomatous and healthy ONHs as a prerequisite to predict disease. 

This research is underpinned by a multidisciplinary team of investigators within different Schools across Cardiff University including Professors Rachel North (OPTOM), James Morgan, Vic Duance (BIOSCI), Keith Meek (OPTOM), Phil Stephens (DENTL), and Dave Marshall (COMPSCI), and Dr Craig Boote (OPTOM). Nick White and James Fergusson of the Vision Science Bioimaging Laboratories (VSBL) have also been instrumental in this work, as are our external collaborators that have included  Professor C. Ross Ethier (Wallace H. Coulter, Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology & Emory University School of Medicine London & Georgia Institute of Technology, US); Professor Mike Fautsch (Department of Ophthalmology, Mayo Graduate School of Medicine, Rochester, US), Dr Michael Girard (Department of Biomedical Engineering, National University of Singapore, Singapore), Dr Tegwin Malik (Swansea University) and Professor Andrew Parker (Oxford University and Lifescaped) and Dr. Enyam Morny (University of Cape Coast, Ghana).

Current and past research funding includes:

J Albon, R Bartlett,  RV North, JE Morgan, D Marshall. A multidisciplinary approach to early detection and staging disease in glaucoma, 2020-2022, Wellcome Trust ISSF3 Award. 

Albon J, Meek KM, White N (2020) Characterisation of the 3D microstructure of the ostracod carapace: why is it transparent? Ptychography beamtime allocation (72 hours, ~£100,000) at Diamond synchrotron I3-1 coherence, Apr 2021.

L Terry, T Redmond, J Albon with EK Morny (University of Cape Coast, Ghana). Challenging blindness in Sub-Saharan Africa: the Ghana Glaucoma Study pilot, 2019-2020, Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).   

J Albon with N. White, RV North, JE Morgan. Health Studentship Award, Health and Care Research Wales/ Welsh Government. Optic nerve microstructure: a significant indicator of disease severity, £65408, 2017- 2020.

Meek KM, Albon J. Ostracod carapace as a novel transparent material, DSTL, £828,093, 2016-2019.

Albon J, Paletto L, White N (2018) Optic nerve head pore parameters as a predictor of glaucoma eye disease – how does pore size relate to nerve axon content? Microtomography beamtime allocation 48 hours, £35168) at Diamond synchrotron I3-2; includes subsistence, travel and accommodation, July 2018

Morgan S, Albon J, White N, Meek KMM (2018) Characterisation of ostracod carapace microstructure: why is it tough and transparent? Beamtime allocation (72 hours, £46557) on I18: Microfocus spectroscopy, includes subsistence, travel and accommodation, Apr-May 2018. 

Albon J, Meek KM, White N (2018) Characterisation of the 3D nanostructure of the ostracod carapace: why is it transparent? Part 2: beamtime allocation (96 hours, £100480) at Diamond synchrotron I3-1; ptychography; includes subsistence, travel and accommodation, Apr 2019.

Albon J, Duance VC. Connective tissue microstructure as a bioindicator for optic nerves at risk of developing disease. Bioscience PhD Scheme 50:50 with OPTOM, £72,000, 2015-2018.

Stephens P, Corteling R, Albon J, Clayton A. Exosomes for anti-scarring therapy DENTL studentship/ReNeuron Oct 2015-Sept 2018; £100,000 (£50,000).

Albon J, Meek KM, Boote C. (2017) Do changes in collagen and elastin as a function of age within optic nerve heads alter such that their response to strain impacts on their susceptibility to glaucomatous optic neuropathy? Beamtime allocation (48hours, Feb 2018; £31038) at Diamond synchrotron I22; includes subsistence, travel and accommodation.

Albon J, Meek KM, White N (2017) Characterisation of the 3D microstructure of the ostracod carapace: why is it transparent? Part 1: Beamtime allocation (72 hours, £129325) at Diamond synchrotron I3-1; ptychography & i13-2; microtomography, includes subsistence, travel and accommodation, Sept 2017

Regini JR, Albon J, Meek KM (2017) Measuring ultrastructural changes in porcine lens before and after the accommodation process using SAXS. Beamtime allocation (48hours, £31038) at Diamond synchrotron I22; includes subsistence, travel and accommodation, Oct 2017.

Albon J, Meek KM, Boote C. (2015) Connective tissue nanostructure in the human optic nerve head: is collagen structure different in the young optic nerve head compared to aged optic nerves, such that biomechanical behaviour favours support and preservation of nerve axons? Beamtime allocation (48hours, £36090) at Diamond synchrotron I22; includes subsistence, travel and accommodation, June 2016.

Albon J. Lamina cribrosa micro-regions as predictors of glaucomatous optic neuropathy, Cardiff University Research Leave Fellowship, £15,000, Sept 2015-Aug 2016.

Abel R, Ethier CR, Albon J (2014) Structural and mechanical basis of glaucoma: the silent thief of sight. STFC funds for travel, Diamond synchrotron beam time (72 hours) allocation of Xray microtomography) on I12; includes subsistence, travel and accommodation, May 2015.

Albon J, Boote J, Meek K. (2014) Connective tissue in the human optic nerve head: does collagen structure change as a function of age and therefore increase an optic nerves susceptibility to develop glaucoma. Beamtime allocation (48 hours, £36,132) on Diamond synchrotron i22; includes subsistence, travel and accommodation, Mar 2015

Albon J, North RV, White, N, Morgan JE. Focal lamina cribrosa micro-regions: biomarkers for glaucomatous optic neuropathy? Fight For Sight, Jan-Dec 2015, £15,000.

Albon J, Meek KM. Stem cell therapy in corneal wound repair. CITER student bursary, July-Aug 2015, £1800.

Albon J, North RV, Morgan JE. The use of 1050nm OCT to identify changes of optic nerve head pathophysiology in glaucoma, College of Optometrists, £52,688, 2011-2014.

Albon J, White N, North RV (Aug-Sept 2014) Identification of pathophysiology ‘hot spots’ in the glaucomatous optic nerve head, College of Optometrists Summer Scholarship, £2,000

Albon J, North RV. Retinal layer analysis as an indicator of early glaucomatous damage, CUROP, £1400, 2013.

Albon J, Duance VC, £5000, 3D reconstruction of  the Human Optic Nerve Head, Thermofisher Inspire Award, 2013.

Albon J, North RV, Morgan JE. Disks at Risk. American Health Assistance Foundation (now the Brightfocus Foundation), $100,000, 2011-2013

Albon J, Boote J, Meek K Connective tissue in the ageing human optic nerve head: how does spatial distribution influence its ability to support nerve fibres that pass through it and susceptibility to develop glaucoma. Beamtime allocation (48 hours, £36,900) on Diamond synchrotron I22; includes subsistence, travel and accommodation, Aug 2013.

Albon J, Boote J, Meek K. (2011) Connective tissue in the human optic nerve head: does regional variation influence its ability to support nerve fibres that pass through it and susceptibility to develop glaucoma? Beamtime allocation (48 hours, £39,035) on Diamond synchrotron I22; includes subsistence, travel and accommodation, Mar 2012.

Albon J, Boote C, Meek K, (2011) How does connective tissue in the human optic nerve head influence its ability to support nerve fibres that pass through it and susceptibility to develop glaucoma? Part 2 Beamtime allocation (48 hours, £43,489) on Diamond synchrotron i22 microfocus; includes subsistence, travel and accommodation, Aug 2011.

Albon J, Meek K, Boote C, White N. What age-related parameters make an optic nerve head more susceptible to axonal loss and potential blindness? BBSRC DTG studentship, £50,000, 2009-2013.

Quantock AJ and co-applicants including Albon J, £212,040 BBSRC Doctoral Training Grant, 2009-16.

Albon J, Boote J, Meek K. Changes to the connective tissue architecture of the human optic nerve head with age, and their relationship to glaucoma development. STFC funds ( ~ £43,000) for travel, 2 days subsistence, accommodation and SAXS beam time at Diamond, Aug 2011, 

Albon J, North RV, Drexler W, Morgan JE, £15,000, Optic nerve head changes in the progression of glaucomatous optic neuropathy using 1mm OCT, Hirsch and Fight for Sight Award, 2010-11.

Morgan JE, Tudor D, Albon J, £49,918, Perineuronal net (PNN) digestion as a therapy for the restoration of retinal ganglion cell structure in glaucoma. National Eye Research Centre, 2010-11.

Morgan JE, Albon J, £49,911, Characterisation of the perineuronal net (PNN) in the glaucomatous human retina: the identification of targets for PNN digestion as a potential therapy for the restoration of retinal ganglion cell structure in glaucoma, International Glaucoma Association, 2010-11.

Albon J, Boote C, Meek K. (2009) How does connective tissue in the human optic nerve head influence its ability to support nerve fibres that pass through it and susceptibility to develop glaucoma? Part 1 Beam time allocation (48 hours, ~ £40,000) at Diamond synchrotron on I22 microfocus; includes travel, subsistence and accommodation, Dec 2010

Wride MA, Morgan JE, Albon J, The role of inhibitors of apoptosis (IAPs) and caspases in retinal ganglion cell death and dendrite remodelling. National Eye Research Centre, £49,918, 2007-2010.

North R, Albon J, Drexler W, Three dimensional imaging of the ageing and glaucomatous optic nerve head: risk factors for the development of open-angle glaucoma. UK&Eire Glaucoma Society and International Glaucoma Association, £20,000,  2008-09.

Albon J, Wride MA, Boulton ME. Identification of candidate genes critical to epithelial cell patterning and differentiation during corneal development, National Eye Research Centre, £49,800, 2005-08.

Quantock AJ and co-applicants (including Albon J), BBSRC Doctoral Training Grant, £212,040; 2004-2009.

Albon J, Armitage WJ, Boulton ME. The regulation of epithelial homeostasis in transplantable corneas. National Eye Research Centre. Oct 01-Sept 04; £49,899.

Current Postgraduate Student
(anticipated completion year):

Mukhit Kulmaganbetov PhD 2021

Past Postgraduate Students (and year submitted):

Ryan Bartlett PhD
2021
Ben Rumney PhD 2021
Xenia Mathes MSc 2020
Laura Paletto PhD 2019
Robert Knight PhD 2019
Saleha Al-Atawi PhD 2019
Camilla Phillips PhD 2018
Bethany Frost PhD 2015
Daniela Nosch PhD 2015
Stefan Bandlitz PhD 2015
Hannah Jones PhD 2014
Paulina Samsel PhD 2010
Lilian Kisiswa PhD 2010
Magdalena Nowak-Musial PhD 2009
Bablin Molik PhD 2007
Aihua Ma PhD 2006
Andreas Ballis PhD 2006
Jila Soltaninia PhD 2005
Sarah Farrant PhD 2005

Supervision

I have successfully supervised 18 PhD students, all of whom have successfully completed their submissions and passed. Students interested in doing PhDs within the group should have an interest in the areas of:

  • Optic nerve head imaging and image feature analyses
  • Elastin in the ageing and disease
  • Collagen in the ageing and disease
  • Connective tissue micromechanics
  • Connective tissue and biomechanical properties

Current supervision

Mukhit Kulmaganbetov

Mukhit Kulmaganbetov

Research student

Past projects

Previous PhD student projects:

  • Ryan Bartlett; An in vivo investigation of optic nerve head microstructure in primary open angle glaucoma (awarded 2021).
  • Ben Rumney; The structural and compositional basis for the transparency and physical properties of the skogsbergia lerneri carapace (awarded 2021).
  • Rob Knight; Small extracellular vesicles as anti-scarring agents (awarded 2020).
  • Laura Paletto; From micro to nanostructure: an investigation into the connective tissue of the ageing human optic nerve head (awarded 2019).
  • Saleha Al-Atawi; Structural changes in the eye lens during accommodation (awarded 2019)
  • Camilla Phillips; The effect of cell-based therapy on LASIK-like corneal wounds (awarded 2018)
  • Bethany Frost; The use of 1050nm OCT to identify changes in optic nerve head pathophysiology in glaucoma (awarded 2016).
  • Nosch, Daniela; Influences of stimulus characteristics and ocular surface conditions on non-invasive corneal sensitivity measurement (awarded 2015).
  • Bandlitz, Stefan; The role of the meniscus in the tear film (awarded 2015). 
  • Hannah Jones; Connective tissue in the human optic nerve head (awarded 2015)
  • Paulina Samsel; Retinal plasticity in experimental glaucoma (awarded 2011)
  • Magdalena Nowak Musial; Evaluation of cellular processes and identification of candidate genes (awarded 2010).
  • Lilian Kisiswa; The role of inhibitors of apoptosis (IAPs) in retinal ganglion cell death and dendrite remodelling (awarded 2010)
  • Bablin Molik; Role of matrix metalloproteinases in uveoscleral outflow (awarded 2008).
  • Aihua Ma; Notch signalling and its role in corneal epithelium survival and differentiation (awarded 2006)
  • Andreas Ballis; Gene Expression profile of cells in successive stages of the corneal stem cell lineage (awarded 2006).
  • Jila Soltaninia; A study comparing the regulation of epithelial homeostasis in transplantable human and porcine corneas (awarded 2006).
  • Sarah Farrant; The pathophysiology of retinal ganglion cell death in glaucoma (awarded 2005).