The University of Illinois Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences conducts study entitled, “A fMRI Evaluation of Brain Plasticity Following Low Vision Reading Rehabilitation.”: 2002 – 2003

Howard Nochumson, Executive Director of the Washington Square Health Foundation, standing, right, talks with Keith Thulborn, MD, PhD, Director of MRI Research at UIC, while they look over MR Technologist Michael Flannery’s shoulder at brain images.
Janet Szlyk, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at UIC, shows Washington Square Health Foundation Executive Director Howard Nochumson an MR scanner at UIC College of Medicine’s MR Research Center.

The Washington Square Health Foundation approved a grant to the University of Illinois Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences to conduct a study that is investigating changes in the neural network organization of the brain following reading rehabilitation intervention in low vision patients.

The Low Vision Laboratory at the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences has developed new technology to identify “islands” of healthy residual vision within severely diseased regions of the retina of low vision patients. The laboratory is currently studying the effectiveness of training patients to use these islands in order to read. Funding from the Washington Square Health Foundation has allowed the program to improve by utilizing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as a tool to identify specific cognitive skills that can be acquired in order to increase the success of this rehabilitative program and to identify potential brain activity patterns that are consistent with effective rehabilitation.

This research will provide critical information regarding the plasticity of the brain’s visual system in response to vision rehabilitation. Given the cost of rehabilitation services, it is necessary to determine which aspects of rehabilitation are truly effective in improving the recognition and motor skills necessary for reading and identification of objects in the environment. Knowledge of the brain’s plasticity responses following different reading rehabilitation protocols will allow us to select the most appropriate program for individual patients.

For more information on the study please see the University of Illinois’ article “Washington Square Awards $36,000.00 for Research on Low Vision Rehabilitation