Physical activity plays a key role in increasing health and well-being across the human lifespan. This theme may include activity around physiology and nutrition, physical activity and workplace interventions, biomechanics and injury, applied sports psychology and public health and engineering.

Available PhD projects

1. Age-­related macular degeneration: when is it time to care?

Full project title: Age-­related macular degeneration: when is it time to care? Usual seasonal lutein dietary intake and plasma concentration, and macular pigmentation status with or without supplementation in subjects between the age of 20 to 80 years residing in Devon or Queensland

UQ academic leads

Dr Veronique Chachay, School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, Centre for Dietetics Research
Professor Sandra Capra,School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, Centre for Dietetics Research
Dr David Briskey, School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences (laboratory chemistry), and RDC Global
Ms Amanda Rao, Chief Executive Officer, RDC Global

Exeter academic lead

Dr Sarah Jackman, Sport and Health Sciences

Project description

The macula lutea is a light sensitive area on the retina, responsible for sharp central vision in daily tasks. Central vision is decreased or distorted when macular deterioration occurs. The macula is yellow in colour due to three carotenoids present in the photoreceptors: lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-­zeaxanthin, collectively referred to as macular pigments. Lutein has been shown to protect the retina by absorbing high-­energy blue light, and reducing reactive oxygen species (ROS). Blue light, emitted by screens such as computers, and smartphones, can damage the cellular function and structure of photoreceptors, and generate ROS. Age-­related macular degeneration (AMD), also occurs from aging processes, resulting from structural and blood flow changes induced by ROS. Because macular pigments cannot be synthesized by the human body, they must be obtained from the diet or supplementation. Hammond et al. (1997) showed that dietary lutein influenced concentrations in the macula in a dose-­dependent manner. Lutein is found in leafy greens vegetables, colourful fruits and eggs; however, concentrations can vary greatly depending on the agricultural origin (1 cup of kale contains 16,903.86mcg, 1 grapefruit 19mcg). Data from the average US population indicate a mean daily intake of 2mg (IOM,2000). This is minimal compared to the dosage shown to reducing the risk of AMD: supplementing 6mg daily lowered the risk of AMD by 43% (Seddon et al. 1994).

There is currently no recommended dietary intake for lutein. Ranard et al. (2017) reviewed the scientific evidence to propose that dietary recommendations should be established to increase public awareness. As the ageing population and exposure to blue light through technology increase, the prevalence of AMD is expected to double by 2050 (Rein et al. 2009), making the prevention of AMD a priority.

Determining the dietary availability and intake of lutein in the region of Devon (UK) and Queensland (Australia) in a broad age group will inform on the suitability of dietary sources, and the requirement for optimal macular health throughout life.This will guide dietary and supplemental clinical recommendations, and population awareness campaigns.

The aims are to:

  1. Investigate lutein dietary supply in seasonal foods sourced in the regions of Exeter and Brisbane.
  2. Investigate the lutein usual dietary intake and plasma concentration, and macular pigmentation, of subjects aged between 18 and 80 years, in Exeter and Brisbane.
  3. Investigate the effect of 16 weeks lutein supplementation on macular pigmentation in subjects aged between 18 and 80 years.


The ideal candidate for this project would be a graduate of the Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics, with an interest in nutrition/food science research. A graduate of a clinical nutrition degree would facilitate the quality of dietary data methodology and collection, and have a strong knowledge of food composition, with nutrition counselling skills for the clinical intervention.


Submit UQ expression of interest form by 26 May 2018