UAB researcher awarded unusual grant to better understand how vision works

By on July 16, 2014

One University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry researcher is working toward a better understanding of how vision works with funding from an unusual type of R01 grant.

Lawrence Sincich, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Vision Sciences, has been awarded a new $1.1 million five-year R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Eye Institute called a Bioengineering Research Partnership, which supports multiple labs to achieve a common goal. This collaboration includes researchers at two University of California campuses, Berkeley and San Francisco, as well as Montana State University.

“Vision begins with the array of photoreceptors in the retina, yet we have very limited access to those cells, which makes it difficult to fully understand how vision works, and how retinal pathology leads to visual dysfunction,” Sincich said.

Sincich, who is also studying the eye’s photoreceptors to better understand how color perception is ultimately achieved in the brain, is co-investigator on the BRP.

“The BRP proposes to develop three advanced instruments that will greatly improve optical access to the photoreceptors in the living eye, and enable experiments that will yield a fresh understanding of how vision works,” he said.
The instruments, Sincich says, incorporate two key technical strengths: adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (AOSLO) systems and accurate, high-speed eye-motion tracking.

“Together, these capabilities allow for the accurate visualization, tracking and delivery of light to retinal features as small as single cone photoreceptors, enabling the cellular basis of spatial and color vision to be studied with unprecedented resolution,” Sincich said.

There are two systems in the world with this capability, one at UAB and the other at UC Berkeley.

Full realization of these capabilities and broader use, however, requires a series of new and innovative technical advances as well as increased cooperation between the developers and the end users of the technology, Sincich says.

“The BRP accomplishes this by formally combining a group of labs with a proven track record of effective collaboration and with expertise in optics, engineering, electrophysiology, psychophysics, color vision, neuroscience and eye disease,” Sincich said. “In doing so, the BRP creates a uniquely effective pathway for translating newly gained knowledge and technology from an animal model to the psychophysics lab and then to a clinical setting.”

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