RIT scientist receives award for pioneering research into cortical blindness

Rochester Institute of Technology’s Gabriel Diaz, an assistant professor in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, scored Blindness prevention research/Lions Clubs International Foundation Low Vision Research Award (LVRA) in collaboration with researchers at the University of Rochester.

The award is given annually to fund innovative research that demonstrates out-of-the-box thinking, focuses on the impaired visual system, and seeks to better understand how the visual system and brain respond to severe and chronic vision loss. .

Diaz and his team aim to understand the effects of cortical blindness on the processing of visual information used in behaviors such as driving a vehicle. Cortical blindness affects nearly half a million stroke patients in the United States each year. Sight loss drastically affects independence and quality of life.

“This research is about finding out what kind of information the brain uses to navigate the world,” Diaz said. “We believe that cortical blindness impairs the ability to process visual motion information, which research has shown is critical for navigation.”

Previous research on cortical blindness has focused primarily on how it affects low-level visual abilities, such as the ability to distinguish subtle patterns of movement in the blind field, using techniques that do not accurately replicate the actual tasks that individuals with cortical blindness struggle with. daily. Diaz’s research will more accurately reflect real-world visual problems using virtual reality simulations. Study participants will use a steering wheel to keep a simulated vehicle centered on a road that winds through fields and woods.

“People are slow to adapt to new technologies like this,” Diaz said, “but it’s clear that researchers are embracing new display technologies and immersive research that takes them away from their desks.”

Diaz, who has extensive experience studying how humans use vision to guide action, and Krystel Huxlin, a collaboration with the James V. Aquavella Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Rochester, who has studied cortical blindness and brain function for more than two decades. , builds on the growing relationship between the two Rochester schools in the visual and cognitive sciences. LVRA supports this type of research to improve the lives of the visually impaired.

“One of the main goals of this study is to obtain results that will help to develop new rehabilitation methods for those who suffer from cortical blindness,” added Diaz. “With future research, we hope to offer rehabilitation paradigms that could help these people live better lives, because their quality of life will certainly suffer from not being able to drive and be independent.”

RIT Imaging Ph.D. student Arianna Giguere was closely involved in the design and development of the research project and was primarily responsible for the collection and analysis of the preliminary data that led to the award.

“I am very proud to be part of this motivated team,” Giguere said. “I could not be more excited to work alongside these passionate scientists on our landmark research in support of this prestigious award.”

The research team also includes academic advisors Duje Tadin of the University of Rochester and Brett Fajen of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Godfrey Kemp

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