Eye movements not only help with image stabilization, they help us recognize partially hidden or moving objects

Ever watch a jittery video made with a hand-held camera that made you almost ill? With our eyes constantly darting back and forth and our body hardly ever holding still, that is exactly what our brain is faced with. Yet despite the shaky video stream, we usually perceive our environment as perfectly stable.

Not only does the brain find a way to compensate for our constantly flickering gaze, but researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found that it actually turns the tables and relies on eye movements to recognize partially hidden or moving objects. Their findings will be published in a forthcoming issue of Nature Neuroscience.

“You might expect that if you move your eyes, your perception of objects might get degraded,” explains senior author Richard Krauzlis, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Systems Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute. “The striking thing is that moving your eyes can actually help resolve ambiguous visual inputs.”

Our eyes move all the time, whether to follow a moving object or to scan our surroundings. On average, our eyes move several times a second – in fact, in a lifetime, our eyes move more often than our heart beats. “Nevertheless, you don’t have the sense that the world has just swept across or rotated around you. You sense that the world is stable,” says Krauzlis.

Just like high-end video cameras, the brain relies on an internal image stabilization system to prevent our perception of the world from turning into a blurry mess. Explains lead author Ziad Hafed, Ph.D. “Obviously, the brain has found a solution. In addition to the jumpy video stream, the visual system constantly receives feedback about the eye movements that the brain is generating.”

Hafed and Krauzlis took the question of how the brain is able to maintain perception under less than optimal circumstances one step further. “If you think of the video stream as a bunch of pixels coming in from the eyes, the real challenge for the visual system is to decide which pixels belong to which objects. We wondered whether information about eye movements is used by the brain to solve this difficult problem,” says Hafed, who is an NSERC (Canada) and Sloan-Swartz post-doctoral researcher at the Salk Institute.

Krauzlis explains that the human brain recognizes objects in everyday circumstances because it is very good at filling in missing visual information. “When we see a deer partially hidden by tree trunks in a forest, we can still segment the visual scene and properly interpret the individual features and group them together into objects,” he says.

However, even though recognizing that deer is effortless for us, it is not a trivial accomplishment for the brain. Teaching computers to recognize objects in real life situations has proven to be an almost insurmountable problem. Artificial intelligence researchers have spent much time and effort trying to design robots that can recognize objects in unconstrained situations, but so far, their success has been limited.

To determine whether eye movements actually help the brain recognize objects, Hafed and Krauzlis asked whether people perceived an object better when they actively moved their eyes or when they stared at a given point in space. Human subjects watched a short video that allowed them to glimpse a partially hidden chevron shape that moved in a circle.

When they kept their eyes still by fixating on a stationary spot, observers perceived only random lines moving up and down. But when they moved their eyes such that the input video streams through them were unaltered, viewers easily recognized the lines as a circling chevron.

“It turns out that eye movements not only help with image stabilization, but that this additional input also plays a fairly important role for the perception of objects in the face of all the challenges that real life visual scenes pose – that objects are obscured or are moving, and so on,” says Hafed.

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to fundamental discoveries in the life sciences, the improvement of human health, and the training of future generations of researchers. Jonas Salk, M.D., whose polio vaccine all but eradicated the crippling disease poliomyelitis in 1955, opened the Institute in 1965 with a gift of land from the City of San Diego and the financial support of the March of Dimes.

Contact: Gina Kirchweger

Salk Institute

Specific Brain Regions Show Increased Activity During Hallucinations

Ever seen or heard something that wasn’t there? For most of us such experiences – termed hallucinations – are a normal, fleeting, brain glitch; yet for a few they are persistent, distressing and associated with a range of psychiatric, neurological and eye conditions.

In the September Issue of Cortex Dominic H. ffytche at the Institute of Psychiatry in London reviews what we do know and moves the field forward, by introducing a new experimental approach to studying hallucinations as they occur.

Surprisingly little is known about brain changes that occur during hallucinations because of their brief, unpredictable nature. One cannot anticipate when a hallucination will occur, so the chances of capturing one during a brain scanning experiment are small. It has long been recognized that flashes of light at particular frequencies produce hallucinations of intricate patterns and vivid colours. Using a combination of brain imaging methods in normal subjects, the author harnesses the technique to examine localized changes in brain activity and changes in brain connections during hallucinations.

“We observed increases in activity in visual brain regions”, says ffytche, “Increases in visual connection strength and an alteration in relationship between visual relay and receiving stations, together suggesting that hallucinations were caused by a transient form of ‘blindness'”.

The work highlights the need to consider the hallucinating brain from a wider perspective than previously thought. Changes in both localized brain activity and in connections between brain areas occur during hallucinations, raising further questions as to how these changes interact with pre-existing abnormalities in patients susceptible to hallucinations.

The article is “The Hodology of Hallucinations” by Dominic H. ffytche, and it appears in Cortex, Volume 44, Issue 8 (September 2008), pp 637-648, published by Elsevier in Italy.

This article is published in a Special Issue of Cortex entirely dedicated to the novel MRI methods to study human brain connections. In the same issue an article by Thiebaut de Schotten et al shows that disorders of spatial awareness are frequently associated with lesions of the fibres connecting the frontal and parietal lobes. Similarly for the left hemisphere Catani and Mesulam revisit the anatomy of the language pathways and show that beyond the classical language network connecting Wernicke’s and Broca’s area there are additional circuits involved in complex language functions. This hodological approach begins to reveal important details on the architectural backbone of human cognition and could explain the anatomical basis of symptoms commonly observed in a wide range of disorders including schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.

About Cortex

Cortex is an international journal devoted to the study of cognition and of the relationship between the nervous system and mental processes, particularly as these are reflected in the behaviour of patients with acquired brain lesions, normal volunteers, children with typical and atypical development, and in the activation of brain regions and systems as recorded by functional neuroimaging techniques. It was founded in 1964 by Ennio De Renzi. The Editor in-chief of Cortex is Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. Cortex is available online.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading publisher of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. Working in partnership with the global science and health communities, Elsevier’s 7,000 employees in over 70 offices worldwide publish more than 2,000 journals and 1,900 new books per year, in addition to offering a suite of innovative electronic products, such as ScienceDirect (sciencedirect/), MD Consult (mdconsult/), Scopus (info.scopus/), bibliographic databases, and online reference works.

Elsevier (elsevier/) is a global business headquartered in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and has offices worldwide. Elsevier is part of Reed Elsevier Group plc (reedelsevier/), a world-leading publisher and information provider. Operating in the science and medical, legal, education and business-to-business sectors, Reed Elsevier provides high-quality and flexible information solutions to users, with increasing emphasis on the Internet as a means of delivery. Reed Elsevier’s ticker symbols are REN (Euronext Amsterdam), REL (London Stock Exchange), RUK and ENL (New York Stock Exchange).

Source: Valeria Brancolini


Nanoimprint Lithography NSF Grant Awarded To Micro Device Lab At Stevens

Dr. Eu-Hyeok (EH)Yang, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Micro Device Laboratory (MDL) at Stevens Institute of Technology, The Innovation UniversityTM, will receive funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the acquisition of a Nanoimprint Lithography System (NIL) for the purpose of nanoscience research and education based on low-dimensional materials at Stevens. The Co-PIs of the project are Drs. Besser, Choi, Cappelleri and Strauf. This equipment acquisition is an important step in achieving Dr. Yang’s goal of integrating research and education in nanotechnology at the MDL. In addition, nanoimprint lithography will benefit local institutions searching for nearby solutions for nanopatterning. “The system will be an open local resource for researchers,” Yang says.

“The NIL system is the latest piece of equipment in completing the fabrication process flow for micro/nano devices at Stevens,” Yang says. “The MDL’s capabilities for research and education increase significantly with this system.”

The grant funds the acquisition of a Nanonex 1000 Nanoimprint Lithography System, a whole-wafer (4-inch) nanoimprinter for thermoplastic resins that has high-resolution (~10 nm) and high-throughput (~60 sec) capabilities. This acquisition will strengthen the exploration of high-throughput nanoscale patterning as a key part of the research projects funded by NSF, DARPA, US Army, AFOSR, and ONR. These inter-disciplinary, high-risk, high-payoff research projects will provide a consistently growing user base and cultivate a multidisciplinary research-intense learning environment in nanotechnology at Stevens along with collaborators in the New York City metropolitan area.

This research capability also supports cross-disciplinary educational initiatives already underway at Stevens. It provides hands-on experience to students in the Nanotechnology Graduate Program and undergraduates alike. One of Yang’s undergraduate senior design teams plans to create an Intra Ocular Pressure Relief Valve, used to treat glaucoma by releasing fluid when pressure builds up in the eye. The nanoimprint lithography system will greatly benefit their fabrication process.

“The MDL is an integral component of the Nanotechnology research thrust at Stevens,” says Michael Bruno, Dean of the Charles. V. Schaefer School of Engineering and Science. “The NIL acquisition enhances Stevens’ capabilities for nanotechnology research in the area and simultaneously offers outside organizations a solution for their nanotechnology research needs.”

Researchers at Stevens previously relied on an external nanoimprint lithography facility at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY. Therefore, the aavailability of the in-house nanoimprint lithography system will significantly increase the efficiency and output of work done in the laboratory, increase the training capabilities for Stevens staff and students, and enable many undergraduate and graduate educational initiatives. Investigators from and outside of Stevens will have easy access to nanoimprint lithography in the Micro Device Laboratory on the Stevens campus. Professor Ioana Voiculescu at City College of New York is listed as Senior Personnel of the Project.

“Over the next few years we will be a major force in nanotechnology research as this facility, along with future acquisitions, continues to grow,” says Dr. Constantin Chassapis, Professor, Deputy Dean of the School of Engineering & Science, and Director of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Dr. Eui-Hyeok Yang
Stevens Institute of Technology

Optometrists Encourage Eye Test For Children, Ireland

Optometrists are encouraging parents and teachers across the country to take their children for a special eye test as part of its Bright Eyes For Back to School campaign which runs next week (from September 6th to 11th).

The campaign by the Association of Optometrists (AOI) includes a special eye test its members are offering for young children to help detect any sight problems early, which enables the best treatment options. Proper levels of eye care can help prevent vision problems which can affect a child throughout their life.

AOI Optometric Advisor, Lynda McGivney Nolan, said that children with undetected vision problems can lead to learning difficulties. Over 80% of what a child learns is based on vision and vision plays a vital role in playing and interacting with their peers. If a child has vision problems which are not detected and therefore untreated, that child will not be able to achieve his or her full potential. This can in turn lead to behavioural difficulties.

“Ideally all children should have their vision assessed by the age of three and then again at five, but many children in Ireland are not being seen until much later, if at all through the National School Screening system.

“Not only does this screening happen too late, it is also inadequate and can miss certain vision problems and give a high false positive rate. This results in children being referred to the community ophthalmologist for further testing, but it can take up to two years depending on where you live to get an appointment. This delay can have huge consequences for a child’s visual development.

Another point to consider is that a child is only entitled to two screenings during the whole time they are in school. A child’s eyesight can change very quickly and within a 6 month period, may go from having normal vision to developing a vision problem. This means that children of school going age should have access to regular vision assessments designed to detect

“The Association of Optometrists has developed a simple 6 point vision assessment which can be done at any local Independent Opticians Practice. It is more detailed and thorough than the screening on offer through schools and is specifically designed to identify the problems that can often be missed in young children’s eyesight,” she said.

Studies show that early access to properly designed screening systems for children is essential in providing proper levels of eyecare. If children are not seen until they are six or seven, the visual system has developed and the reversal of vision loss is far more difficult if not impossible in some cases.

The AOI said children’s eye examinations with an optometrist are not covered by the HSE and that parents must pay privately, or else risk having their child on long waiting lists to be seen at HSE clinics. The problem with these long waiting lists is that at one end, the child may be seen too late to reverse vision problems which are fully treatable, or at the very least the child has to continue struggling to cope with vision problems while trying to develop normally and keep up with his or her peers. However, the AOI believes that all school going children are entitled to a HSE covered eye examination through an optometrist as recommended by the Competition Authority report on Optometry in Ireland, in 2006.

“This would shorten waiting lists, provide more immediate access to eye care and would be far more cost effective, as the cost of an eye examination with an optometrist is significantly less than with a community ophthalmologist,” she said.

The AOI pointed out that this way, the Community Ophthalmologists can concentrate on seeing those children who need rapid access to their expertise.

Independent Optometrists participating in this campaign will have the Bright Eyes For Back to School posters on display, and as well as offering this screening will have information leaflets for parents. The screening is available to any child of school-going age.

The AOI has encouraged members to make the screening available for as nominal a price as possible. Parents are invited to contact their local participating Independent Optometrist for further details.

The AOI added that if eye problems are diagnosed parents also have the option of having the full eye examination for children carried out by an Optometrist. The Optometrist is fully qualified and can dispense spectacles and advise appropriate management without delays.

Association of Optometrists Ireland

Science At The Petascale: Mimicking Brain Mechanisms Underlying Human Sight

Less than a week after Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Roadrunner supercomputer began operating at world-record petaflop/s data-processing speeds, Los Alamos researchers are already using the computer to mimic extremely complex neurological processes.

Welcome to the new frontier of research at Los Alamos: science at the petascale.

The prefix “peta” stands for a million billion, also known as a quadrillion. For the Roadrunner supercomputer, operating at petaflop/s performance means the machine can process a million billion calculations each second. In other words, Roadrunner gives scientists the ability to quickly render mountainous problems into mere molehills, or model systems that previously were unthinkably complex.

Late last week and early this week while verifying Roadrunner’s performance, Los Alamos and IBM researchers used three different computational codes to test the machine. Among those codes was one dubbed “PetaVision” by its developers and the research team using it.

PetaVision models the human visual system – mimicking more than 1 billion visual neurons and trillions of synapses. Neurons are nerve cells that process information in the brain. Neurons communicate with each other using synaptic connections, analogous to what transistors are in modern computer chips. Synapses store memories and play a vital role in learning.

Synapses set the scale for computations performed by the brain while undertaking such tasks as locomotion, hearing or vision. Because there are about a quadrillion synapses in the human brain, human cognition is a petaflop/s computational problem.

To date, computers have been unable to match human performance on such visual tasks as flawlessly detecting an oncoming automobile on the highway or distinguishing a friend from a stranger in a crowd of people. Roadrunner is now changing the game.

On Saturday, Los Alamos researchers used PetaVision to model more than a billion visual neurons surpassing the scale of 1 quadrillion computations a second (a petaflop/s). On Monday scientists used PetaVision to reach a new computing performance record of 1.144 petaflop/s. The achievement throws open the door to eventually achieving human-like cognitive performance in electronic computers. PetaVision only requires single precision arithmetic, whereas the official LINPACK code used to officially verify Roadrunner’s speed uses double precision arithmetic.

“Roadrunner ushers in a new era for science at Los Alamos National Laboratory,” said Terry Wallace, associate director for Science, Technology and Engineering at Los Alamos. “Just a week after formal introduction of the machine to the world, we are already doing computational tasks that existed only in the realm of imagination a year ago.”

Based on the results of PetaVision’s inaugural trials, Los Alamos researchers believe they can study in real time the entire human visual cortex – arguably a human being’s most important sensory apparatus.

The ability to achieve human levels of cognitive performance on a digital computer could lead to important insights and revolutionary technological applications. Such applications include “smart” cameras that can recognize danger or an autopilot system for automobiles that could take over for incapacitated drivers in complex situations such as navigating dense urban traffic.

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s computation science team working with Roadrunner includes: Craig Rasmussen, Charles Ferenbaugh, Sriram Swaminarayan, Pallab Datta, all of Los Alamos; and Cornell Wright of IBM.

The PetaVision Synthetic Cognition team responsible for the theory and codes run on Roadrunner includes: Luis Bettencourt, Garrett Kenyon, Ilya Nemenman, John George, Steven Brumby, Kevin Sanbonmatsu, and John Galbraith, all of Los Alamos; Steven Zuker of Yale University; and James DiCarlo from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Roadrunner is the world’s first supercomputer to achieve sustained operating performance speeds of one petaflop/s. In partnership with Los Alamos and the National Nuclear Security Administration, Roadrunner was built by IBM and will be housed at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where it will be used to perform calculations that will vastly improve the nation’s ability to certify that the United States nuclear weapons stockpile is reliable without conducting underground nuclear tests. Roadrunner also will be used for science and engineering such as energy research, understanding dark energy and dark matter, materials properties and response, understanding complex neural and biological systems, and biomedical applications.

Roadrunner was built using commercially available hardware, including aspects of commercial game console technologies. Roadrunner has a unique hybrid design comprised of nodes containing two AMD OpteronTM dual-core processors plus four PowerXCell 8iTM processors used as computational accelerators. The accelerators are a special IBM-developed variant of the Cell processors used in the Sony PlayStation® 3. Roadrunner uses a Linux operating system. The project’s total cost is approximately $120 million.

About Los Alamos National Laboratory (lanl/)

Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a team composed of Bechtel National, the University of California, The Babcock & Wilcox Company, and Washington Group International for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.

Source: James E. Rickman

DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory

New Research From Psychological Science

The Insula and Evaluative Processes

Gary G. Berntson, Greg J. Norman, Antoine Bechara, Joel Bruss, Daniel Tranel, and John T. Cacioppo

The insula has been implicated in evaluative and affective processes. New findings indicate that the insula may be broadly involved in integrating affective and cognitive processes. Participants rated the positivity and negativity of picture stimuli and how emotionally arousing they found the pictures to be. Volunteers with lesions of the insula exhibited progressively reduced arousal ratings for progressively more pleasant or unpleasant pictures than did volunteers with lesions of other brain regions. Volunteers with amygdala lesions showed reduced ratings for unpleasant stimuli.

Changing Brains, Changing Perspectives: The Neurocognitive Development of Reciprocity

Wouter van den Bos, Eric van Dijk, Michiel Westenberg, Serge A.R.B. Rombouts, and Eveline A. Crone

Young adolescents tend to be selfish, mainly thinking about themselves. Luckily, most of them grow out of this and eventually start thinking more about others. How does this shift take place? Volunteers ranging in age from 12 to 22 underwent fMRI scans while participating in the Trust Game (i.e., they were given money from a hypothetical partner and decided whether to share with the partner or keep everything). The results showed that with age, adolescents were increasingly sensitive to the perspective of the other player, as indicated by sharing more money with the partner, and this was associated with increased involvement of the left temporo-parietal junction, an area involved in social perspective-taking. In contrast, young adolescents showed more activity in the anterior medial prefrontal cortex, a region associated with self-oriented thought. These findings suggest that the asynchronous development of these neural systems may underlie the shift from thinking about the self to thinking about others.

Early- and Late-Onset Blindness Both Curb Audiotactile Integration on the Parchment-Skin Illusion

Fran?§ois Champoux, Olivier Collignon, Benoit A. Bacon, Franco Lepore, Robert J. Zatorre, and Hugo Th?©oret

Presenting a single somatosensory stimulus with two successive sounds can result in perception of two distinct touch sensations. This observation is the basis of the parchment-skin illusion, in which the sound generated by hands rubbing together results in a change in how dry or moist the palms feel, depending on how the original sound is altered (e.g., change frequency). Congenitally blind individuals are better at ignoring irrelevant auditory or tactile stimuli while completing an auditory or tactile task. In the current experiment, volunteers with normal vision experienced a robust parchment-skin illusion, while the majority of early- and late-onset blind volunteers did not report changes in their perception of how dry or moist their palms were. These findings suggest that vision may play an important role in developing and maintaining the integration of auditory and touch information.

Escalating Slant: Increasing Physiological Potential Does Not Reduce Slant Overestimates

Dennis M. Shaffer and Mariagrace Flint

People are not very good at estimating the degree a hill is sloped: Research has shown that people overestimate the slant of hills by between 15 and 20 degrees. Studies have suggested that people’s perception of the slant of hills is related to how much motor effort the hills would require to climb – the more difficult the climb, the greater the overestimation of the slope. However, new findings contradict this explanation. Volunteers were asked to verbally estimate the slant of a flight of stairs and an escalator from the top or bottom. There was no difference between overestimation of the stairs’ slope and the escalators’ slope, even though stairs require more effort to climb than escalators.

Direct Electrophysiological Measurement of Attentional Templates in Visual Working Memory

Geoffrey F. Woodman and Jason T. Arita

How do we find something we are looking for? New data support the hypothesis that when we want to find something, we hold an image of it in our visual working memory. Volunteers’ brain activity was measured as they looked for an object in a complex scene. Results indicate that visual working memory mechanisms may be involved in maintaining attention for a specific target during a search task. These findings have important clinical implications – for example, working memory problems may be mistaken for attentional deficits.

Keri Chiodo

Association for Psychological Science

Prism Glasses Expand The View For Patients With Hemianopia

Innovative prism glasses can
significantly improve the vision and the daily lives of patients with
hemianopia, a condition that blinds half the visual field in both eyes. The
peripheral prism glasses, which were invented by Dr. Eli Peli, a Senior
Scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute, were evaluated in the first
community-based multi- center trial of such a device, which is published in
the May issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology. The study was coordinated
by Dr. Alex Bowers, a Senior Scientific Associate at the Institute.

“This is the first real breakthrough in the rehabilitation of patients
with this condition,” says Peli, a world-renowned low vision expert, the
Moakley Scholar in Aging Eye Research at Schepens and a Professor of
Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. Peli had searched for a solution
for his hemianopia patients for many years before designing the peripheral
prism glasses, creating a prototype in his laboratory.

More than a million Americans suffer from hemianopia, which blinds the
vision in one half of the visual field in both eyes, resulting from damage
to the optic pathways in the brain. Most commonly caused by strokes, it can
also be the result of brain damage from tumors or trauma. A patient with
this condition may be unaware of what he or she cannot see and frequently
bumps into walls, trips over objects or walks into people on the side where
the visual field is missing.

Peli’s goal was to find a way to expand the visual field. He did this
by attaching small, specially designed high power prisms on the top and
bottom of one spectacle lens, leaving the center of the lens untouched. The
prisms pull in images missing from the visual field above and below the
line of sight on the side of the vision loss, and alert the patient to the
presence of a potential obstacle or hazard. The patient can then move
his/her head and eyes to examine the prism-captured image directly through
the clear center of the lens.

Prisms by their nature can shift images from one side of the visual
field to the other side (e.g., from the right side of the field to the left
side). Before Peli’s invention, others had tried to develop prism glasses
to bring the missing part of the patient’s visual field into view. However,
these previous techniques placed the prisms in the center of the glasses,
which resulted in double vision, which is disturbing and confusing. Peli’s
solution was to keep the central part prism free and place prisms above and

The Archives of Ophthalmology study evaluated the glasses’ ability to
improve a patient’s walking mobility, which includes obstacle avoidance.
Forty-three patients were fitted with prism glasses in 15 community-based
clinics around the country. The clinicians interviewed them at six weeks
and after 12 months. Success was measured by how many patients continued
wearing the prism glasses and by their ranking of the prisms’ effectiveness
in assisting with obstacle avoidance while walking.

Thirty-two participants (74 percent) continued wearing the glasses at
week six. At 12 months, 20 (47 percent) were still donning the spectacles
eight hours a day and rating them as “very helpful” for obstacle avoidance.
These 12-month-plus patients were reporting significant benefits for a
variety of obstacle avoidance scenarios (e.g. walking in crowded areas,
unfamiliar places, shopping malls). According to Bowers, the first author
of the paper, “These results indicate that the glasses have great promise
for helping patients resume normal daily life.”

Peli partnered with a small optical company in Vermont-Chadwick
Optical, Inc. who funded the study in part through a National Institutes
for Health (NIH) small business grant. Peli and Karen Keeney, the President
of Chadwick Optical, created a permanent version of the prisms with higher
optical quality and better durability than the temporary prisms that were
fitted at the start of the study. These permanent prisms were provided to
15 of the study patients when they became available.

A new, higher power, version of the permanent prism glasses recently
developed by Chadwick Optical should also further expand the visual field
and be even more beneficial for patients’ mobility, according to Peli. The
prototype used in the study expanded the peripheral upper and lower visual
fields by 20 degrees without obstructing central vision. The new glasses
expand the field by 30 degrees.

A larger community-based multi-center study is currently underway to
evaluate the latest model. In addition to the higher power, the new study
is also evaluating a novel design for which Dr. Peli just received a
patient from the US patent office. Details on the new ongoing study are
available at clinicaltrials (clinical trial NCT00494676).

Schepens Eye Research Institute is an affiliate of Harvard Medical
School and the largest independent eye research institute in the nation.

Schepens Eye Research Institute

DEF Supports Research In Preventing Ocular Herpes And Infectious Blindness

The Discovery Eye Foundation (DEF) announces their support and progress in the research of Ocular Herpres and Infectious Blindness. Their research continues to bring them closer to understanding new medical approaches, therapies and the molecular mechanisms of Ocular Herpes. Advancements have also been made in developing a new vaccine that would eventually prevent the spread of the Herpes Simplex Virus of the eye and genital tract.

Founded in 1970 by Rita and Morris Pynoos, the Discovery Eye Foundation is dedicated to finding cures and treatments for corneal and retinal eye disease. As a vital catalyst for discovery and research, they work to provide the public with up-to-the-minute and relevant information through patient outreach and patient care. DEF also supports potentially groundbreaking translational basic and applied eye research involving the retina and cornea – particularly diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma, diseases of the aging eye, and corneal diseases including ocular herpes, keratoconus and other degenerative conditions. DEF’s funds impact a wide variety of vision-related research programs.

Among DEF’s priority is funding a research program to combat the blinding effects of ocular herpes virus infection, which is related to the Herpes Simplex Virus of the genital tract. The research and technology being used by DEF for Ocular Herpes may be applicable to preventing genital Herpes one day. Infection with Herpes results in lifelong “latent” infection that can result in repeated recurrences. DEF’s scientists are taking several approaches toward this worldwide problem.

Drs. Steven Wechsler and Dale Carpenter, supported by DEF and the National Institute of Health (NIH), have made progress in understanding the molecular mechanisms of ocular herpes including its latency, reactivation, recurrence, and scarring. DEF supported scientists continue to gain an understanding of LAT, the major virus gene active during herpes latency, including its central molecular role in keeping the virus latent between attacks. They are looking for ways to eradicate the lifelong latent infection.

Dr. Lbachir BenMohamed, whose research is being funded by DEF and the NIH, is investigating how the herpes simplex virus escapes our natural immune system, which is another way the virus remains a lifelong concern. Understanding and harnessing this immune process could lead to therapies to eradicate this chronic infection.

Drs. Anthony Nesburn, who is the Medical Director of DEF, and BenMohamed are currently developing a novel vaccine that would provide an effective and less costly means of preventing and treating ocular herpes. The underlying rationale for these grants is to understand and eventually eradicate debilitating Herpes Simplex Virus of the eye and genital tract. Their findings are currently being evaluated in pre-clinical studies.

Drs. Wechsler and James Jester have developed a powerful new approach to understanding how herpes infection causes corneal scarring through funding provided by DEF and the NIH. This approach may well lead to new ways to save the vision of those with ocular herpes-a major cause of corneal blindness worldwide.

The Discover Eye Foundation

Developmental Delays And Infantile Esotropia Linked

Babies with an eye-alignment disorder called infantile esotropia have delays in motor development milestones, but development “catches up” after corrective surgery, reports a study in the April Journal of AAPOS (American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus).

Led by James R. Drover, PhD, of the Retina Foundation of Southwest Texas, Dallas, the researchers assessed developmental milestones in 161 infants with infantile esotropia, or crossed eyes. These infants need surgery on the eye muscles to correct the alignment. However, it has been unclear whether surgery to correct esotropia influences other aspects of infant development.

To answer this question, the researchers had parents complete an infant development questionnaire before and/or after corrective surgery. The questionnaire assessed fine-motor skills, such as grasping a toy and handling a bottle (sensorimotor development); as well are large-muscle skills, such as sitting, standing, and walking (gross motor development). A group of children with normal eye alignment were studied for comparison.

Before surgery, infants with esotropia had delays in both milestones. The developmental delays appeared as early as four to five months of age and were still present at ten months.

The sensorimotor delays were “particularly profound,” and probably reflected the importance of normal binocular vision (both eyes working together) in fine-muscle tasks. The delays in gross motor development, while not as severe, were still significant.

In contrast, infants tested after esotropia surgery had no delays in developmental milestones. In fact, they actually had a faster rate of sensorimotor development, suggesting that correcting their binocular vision helped their development to “catch up” to that of normal infants.

Infantile esotropia is one of a group of disorders called strabismus, in which the eyes are not aligned normally. Without surgery to correct the problem, depth perception cannot develop. Because vision develops rapidly between three to eight months of age, infantile esotropia might cause delays in developmental milestones – for example, grasping objects, crawling, or walking – that depend on normal vision. However, previous studies were unclear as to whether early surgery helps normal development, partly because many babies with esotropia are not sent for expert evaluation by a pediatric ophthalmologist until they are over one year old.

The new results show that babies with infantile esotropia have significant delays in developmental milestones before surgery, and, suggests that development catches up to normal after surgery to correct eye alignment. Dr. Drover and colleagues suspect that the rapid rate of development after surgery results from the improvement in binocular function.

“Doctors continue to disagree over when is the best time to correct strabismus in children, because most of the focus has been on when it can best help their vision,” comments Dr. David G. Hunter of Children’s Hospital Boston and editor-in-chief of the Journal of AAPOS. “This study says that surgery to correct strabismus doesn’t just help the eyes – it helps the whole child.”

The article appears in Journal of AAPOS (April 2008), published by Elsevier on behalf of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.

About Journal of AAPOS

Journal of AAPOS presents expert information on children’s eye diseases and on strabismus as it impacts all age groups. Major articles by leading experts in the field cover clinical and investigative studies, treatments, case reports, surgical techniques, descriptions of instrumentation, current concept reviews, and new diagnostic techniques. The Journal is the official publication of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading publisher of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. Working in partnership with the global science and health
communities, Elsevier’s 7,000 employees in over 70 offices worldwide publish more than 2,000 journals and 1,900 new books per year, in addition to offering a suite of
innovative electronic products, such as ScienceDirect (sciencedirect/), MD Consult
(mdconsult/), Scopus (info.scopus/), bibliographic databases, and online reference works.

Elsevier (elsevier/) is a global business headquartered in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
and has offices worldwide. Elsevier is part of Reed Elsevier Group plc (reedelsevier/), a world-leading publisher and information provider. Operating in the science and medical, legal, education and
business-to-business sectors, Reed Elsevier provides high-quality and flexible information solutions to users, with increasing emphasis on the Internet as a means of
delivery. Reed Elsevier’s ticker symbols are REN (Euronext Amsterdam), REL (London Stock Exchange), RUK and ENL (New York Stock Exchange).

Source: Jayne Dawkins


Blind College Students May Benefit From New Smartpen And Paper

Subjects like physics, calculus and biology are challenging for most students, but imagine tackling these topics without being able to see the graphs and figures used to teach them. A new smartpen and paper technology that works with touch and records classroom audio aims to bring these subjects to life for blind students.

“Mainstream approaches to teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses all rely strongly on diagrams, graphs, charts and other figures, putting students with visual disabilities at a significant disadvantage,” Andy Van Schaack, lecturer in Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development, said. “Our goal is to enable students and teachers to produce and explore diagrams and figures through touch and sound using a smartpen and paper technology that is low-cost, portable and easy to use.”

Van Schaack and colleague Joshua Miele, a researcher at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute who is blind, have received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to apply the new technology, created by technology company Livescribe, to this effort. Van Schaack is Livescribe’s senior science adviser.

“My area of expertise is instructional technology. I spend a lot of my time trying to figure out how to use technology to make teaching and learning more effective, efficient and accessible,” Van Schaack said. “A new world of possibilities has opened for the rapid creation of portable, low-cost, high-quality accessible graphics enhanced with audio. For example, a visually impaired psychology student could learn neuroanatomy by exploring a diagram of the brain, with each lobe, gyrus and sulcus’s name spoken as the smartpen touches it.”

The Livescribe smartpen recognizes handwritten marks through a camera inside its tip that focuses on a minute pattern of dots printed on paper. It captures over 100 hours of audio through a built-in microphone and plays audio back through a built-in speaker or 3D recording headset. Files are uploaded from the pen to a computer using a USB connection. The technology will be much more affordable and portable than previous products used for this purpose – students can just put it in their backpacks with the rest of their books and notebooks.

Van Schaack and Miele will be using a prototype of the Livescribe smartpen and a Sewell Raised Line Drawing Kit, a Mylar-like film that is deformed when a student writes on it with a pen, creating raised drawings. Students will be able to touch a hand-drawn figure with their smartpen to hear audio explanations of its features.

As for other uses of the smartpen, Van Schaack believes the possibilities are endless.

“It really is a new computer platform – it includes most of the technology found in a typical laptop, but gets its information from handwriting rather than from a keyboard and mouse,” Van Schaack said. “One of the most immediate uses of it that I see will be for college students. It will allow them to spend more time listening in class while taking more of an outline form of notes. Later, when they are reviewing their handwritten notes, they can tap within them to hear what the professor was saying when they wrote a particular note, giving them the opportunity to annotate them for accuracy and additional detail.”

The smartpen is expected to hit stores during the first quarter of 2008 at a cost of less than $200. Livescribe interactive notebooks will run about the same price as a good quality notebook from a college bookstore.

For more information about the smartpen, visit livescribe/.

For video of Van Schaack and the smartpen, visit vanderbilt.edu/news/smartpen.

Source: Melanie Moran

Vanderbilt University