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Virtual Reality Game in Development for Vision Disorder

Virtual reality headset

(Wren Handman, Pixabay)

19 October 2016. An engineering lab at New Jersey Institute of Technology is creating a virtual reality therapy game to treat children with binocular vision dysfunction. The team led by biomedical engineering professor Tara Alvarez is receiving a $50,000 grant from New Jersey Health Foundation to support its work.

Alvarez and colleagues are seeking more effective solutions to treat binocular vision dysfunction, a disorder in some children and adults where the eyes do not align properly making it possible to focus on close-up objects. As a result, it takes extra effort to compensate for the misalignment to eliminate blurriness and double vision, leading to headaches, dizziness, and difficulties in reading.

In children, the condition often is under diagnosed, while they fall behind in school or encounter behavioral problems from the frustrations in not being able to read or look at computer screen for more than a few minutes.”One challenge for children with vision dysfunction is that the visual systems they experience are the only visual experience they know,” says Alvarez in an NJIT statement. “If a child becomes frustrated with reading at an early age, he or she may be less engaged in learning and not be motivated to establish good study habits.”

Current exercise treatments for the eyes, says Alvarez, are expensive and often difficult for children to maintain over time. Thus she and colleagues are taking a different approach, with a 3-D virtual reality game that makes it fun for children with binocular vision dysfunction, or BVD, to perform these exercises, and keep them engaged for longer periods.

Alvarez’s lab studies nerves and muscles involved in vision, and develops systems and instrumentation to address disorders in visual functions. Earlier work from the lab created systems using functional MRI in visual stimulation for use in the home.

The New Jersey Health Foundation is a not-for-profit group supporting biomedical research in the state. The grant to Alvarez comes from the organization’s Innovation Grants Program that supports research leading to patents or other intellectual property. New Jersey Health Foundation began a formal relationship with NJIT earlier this year, and this grant is the first from the foundation to NJIT.

“We were drawn to the idea,” says New Jersey Health Foundation CEO George Heinrich, “that Dr. Alvarez is employing a novel way for a child to participate in his or her own treatment, which could prove to be very effective when treating BVD.”

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