The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) awarded Professor Ben Thompson of the School of Optometry and Vision Science a $100,000 bridge grant to study how non-invasive brain stimulation can help adults recover from brain-based visual disorders such as amblyopia.
Commonly known as “lazy eye”, amblyopia is a loss of vision that originates in the brain and is caused by abnormal visual experience during childhood. If a child develops an eye turn or one eye becomes long sighted, the brain begins to process information from the weaker eye incorrectly. Once amblyopia has developed, even after the issue in the eye is corrected, the vision loss remains until the issue in the brain is fixed.
Treating amblyopia in children typically involves wearing an eye patch over their stronger eye to allow the brain to relearn use of the amblyopic eye.
Reprogramming adult brains that have long passed out of the critical development period, however, has proven more difficult. With currently no widely accepted treatment options for adults, amblyopia increases a patient’s lifetime risk for legal blindness by 50 percent.
But Thompson and his collaborators at Sun Yat-sen University are now finding non-invasive transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a form of low-voltage electrical current, can be effective in temporarily boosting the brain’s response to visual stimulation. Their initial findings were published in Scientific Reports last February.
Thompson now plans to use this latest CHIR grant to work towards a larger randomized study in partnership with Sun Yat-sen University to identify the most effective form of brain stimulation that will help adult patients recover their vision long-term.
“Amblyopia is an issue here in Canada, but much more so in countries where access to basic vision care for children is challenging,” says Thompson.
For more information about graduate student positions and other opportunities with this project, please contact Professor Ben Thompson.