Research at NECO: improving vision, improving lives

headshots of nicole ross, ji chang he, and fuensanta vera

NECO has an impressive roster of faculty committed to conducting innovative research to improve vision and quality of life across multiple specialties.

Meet three of our faculty who have recently received research grants, and learn about the projects they’re working on.

Dr. Nicole Ross

Nicole Ross, OD ’11, MSc, FAAO, is conducting a study to examine the use of mobile technology in assisting older low vision patients with daily activities. The Community Access Through Remote Eyesight (CARE) Study, funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, will evaluate the effectiveness of mobile technology applications in improving quality of life for older adults with visual impairments.

The three apps provide various methods and levels of assistance, ranging from audible narration of text or surroundings to using a phone camera as a magnifier, to real-time connection to a sighted agent. The CARE Study participants are grouped by degree and type of vision loss and randomly assigned to one of the three types of interventions.

Assessments at three and six months will evaluate changes in such things as health state, including depression and loneliness, self-sufficiency, distances traveled from home, and types of services accessed.

By enlisting mobile technology as an additional tool for low vision treatment, Dr. Ross hopes to improve independence, community engagement, and the ability to accomplish daily activities in a group that may not readily search out technology-based solutions.

Dr. Ji-Chang He

Ji-Chang He, MS, PhD, focuses on the optics of the eye and its visual performance. Dr. He was awarded funding from the National Eye Institute /National Institutes of Health for a two-year research project, aimed at “developing an innovative optical imaging system to measure the gradient refractive index (GRIN) of the crystalline lens of the human eye in vivo.”

The GRIN of the lens, determined by a special gradient distribution of the lens’s fiber cell, water, and protein concentrations, is essential to the optical quality of the eye. The lens shape and the lens GRIN continuously change throughout life; however, for more than a century measuring the lens GRIN in live patients has proved extremely challenging.

According to Dr. He, a more thorough understanding of the lens GRIN is critical for optimizing refractive and cataract surgeries, as well as for research into the cellular mechanisms behind presbyopia and cataract development. A successful development of the optical system in this project will provide a useful tool to measure the lens GRIN, and could improve refractive and cataract surgeries and potentially lead to breakthroughs in controlling the development of presbyopia and cataracts.

Dr. Fuensanta Vera-Diaz

Fuensanta Vera-Diaz, OD ’10, PhD, has received significant funding from the National Eye Institute/National Institutes of Health for a five-year longitudinal study, to determine if and when emmetropic children will become myopic and the possible causative factors.

The Preventing myopia: Investigating Contributing factors to Nearsightedness In Children (PICNIC) study investigates retinal image quality and visual processing factors that may contribute to the development of myopia in children, and is unique in its focus on prevention. Myopia has become a global epidemic, with increasingly earlier onset and higher progression rates leading to a rapid rise in the prevalence of associated vision impairment.

The PICNIC study is recruiting children ages six through eight with normal vision, and will examine them twice a year for three years. Testing includes comprehensive clinical care and other non-invasive imaging tests, such as biometry, optical aberrations, OCT, and pERG.

The goal of the PICNIC study is to measure a variety of optical, retinal, and visual intrinsic factors that indicate whether or not a child develops myopia, and the timeframes during which these factors occur. Dr. Vera-Diaz hopes that the results of the study “may help us provide tools to develop successful myopia prevention programs.”