Harnessing the eye-brain connection in amblyopia

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Dania and RichardAmblyopia (“lazy eye”) is among the most common causes of visual impairment in developed countries. Until recently, adults with the condition were considered untreatable, leaving them with significant, economic and social disadvantages. But neuroscience is providing new hope for adults with amblyopia.

COETF award winners Dania Abuleil and Richard Donkor are each investigating methods that stimulate the brain’s plasticity and overcome the suppression of visual information from the amblyopic eye.

Dania’s research, conducted under the supervision of Dr. Daphne McCulloch and Dr. Ben Thompson, explores the use of visual stimulation to strengthen the contribution of the amblyopic eye to binocular vision, the ability to use both eyes together. Dania’s hypothesis is that by exposing both the amblyopic and dominant eyes to flickering, high contrast images, the synapses in the brain will become stronger and allow the amblyopic eye to see.

Richard, working with Dr. Thompson, is investigating the use of transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) as a potential treatment modality for amblyopia in adults. This non-invasive brain stimulation technique alters the neural firing rate in the human visual cortex, allowing the amblyopic eye to recover vision. And while past studies have used tRNS stimulation combined with perceptual learning, Richard’s preliminary work shows that improvements can occur using this particular type of brain stimulation alone.

Richard and Dania’s research could lead to more effective treatments for amblyopia and other conditions involving eye-brain interaction.

This year, the Canadian Optometric Education Trust Fund (COETF) awarded funding to 13 research projects conducted by faculty and graduate students at the School of Optometry & Vision Science. This article is part of a series that highlights some of these projects.

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