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Gabriel Diaz, PhD, an associate professor in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), has been awarded the Research to Prevent Blindness/Lions Clubs International Foundation Low Vision Research Award (LVRA), in collaboration with researchers at the University of Rochester.

According to an RIT news release, the award is given each year to provide funding for innovative research, which demonstrates out-of-the-box thinking, focuses on the visual system that is damaged, and seeks greater understanding of how the visual system and brain respond to severe and chronic visual loss.

The institute noted Diaz and his team of researchers are focusing on understanding the effects of cortical blindness on the processing of visual information used to handle tasks, like driving a vehicle. According to the news release, cortical blindness impacts about 500,000 stroke patients across the country annually, and the loss of vision can have a huge impact on their independence and quality of life.1

“This research is all about learning what type of information the brain uses to navigate the world,” Diaz said in the RIT news release. “We hypothesize that the presence of cortical blindness results in a degraded ability to process visual motion information that research has shown is crucial for navigation.”

RIT noted in the news release recent studies on cortical blindness have zeroed in on just how it affects low-level visual abilities, like the ability to discriminate subtle patterns of motion in the blind field, by using methods that do not accurately replicate actual tasks individuals with cortical blindness struggle with on a daily basis. The news release noted that Diaz’s research will provide some detailed real-world visual problems using virtual reality simulation. The researchers noted that participants in the study will use a steering wheel to keep a simulated vehicle in the center of a road that winds through fields and forested areas.

“People are slow to adopt to new technologies like this,” Diaz said in the RIT news release, “but it is clear researchers are starting to move toward adopting emerging display technologies and immersive studies that get them away from their desks.”

Moreover, the institute noted the collaboration between Diaz, who has extensive experience in studying how humans use vision to guide action.

Krystel Huxlin, PhD., the James V. Aquavella Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Rochester, a researcher who has studied cortical blindness and brain function for more than 20 years, builds upon the growing relationship between the two Rochester schools in the visual and cognitive sciences. The LVRA supports this type of research that aims to improve the lives of the visually impaired.

Diaz pointed out the key goals of the study is to produce results that are able to help produce new methods of rehabilitation for those who suffer from cortical blindness.

“With future research we hope to propose rehabilitation paradigms that might help these people live better because their quality of life if really affected by their inability to drive and be autonomous,” Diaz explained in the news release.

Arianna Giguere, an RIT imaging science PhD student, has been involved with the design and development of the research project and has been largely responsible for the collection and analysis of the preliminary data that made the award possible.

“I am so proud to be a part of this motivated team,” Giguere said in the news release. “I couldn’t be more excited to work alongside these passionate scientists on our meaningful research with the support of this prestigious award.”

According to the RIT news release, the research team also includes academic consultants Duje Tadin from the University of Rochester and Brett Fajen from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

  1. Mollie Radzinski. RIT researcher receives award to advance study of cortical blindness. Rochester Institute of Technology. Published September 13, 2023. Accessed September 14, 2023. DOI: https://www.rit.edu/news/rit-researcher-receives-award-advance-study-cortical-blindness