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October 6, 2008

SUNY Optometry Researcher Receives National Eye Institute Grant to Study Visual System Learning

Professor Benjamin Backus, PhD has received a $600,000 grant over four years from the National Eye Institute for his study "Cue reliability and depth calibration during space perception."  Dr. Backus's grant will be used to study learning that occurs in the visual system. 

Although we are not aware of it, a healthy visual system continually fine tunes itself to make the best use possible of information in the retinal images.  Although some of this tuning occurs in the eye, much of it occurs in the brain -- when the brain improves how it makes use of information in the retinal images to build representation of things in the world.  We experience these representations as the ‘visual appearance' of things – how the world looks when our eyes are open.  It is critical for seeing that the brain make appropriate use of the retinal images.

The brain extracts various signals from retinal images, called ‘cues,' and it must learn how to interpret these cues.  For this grant, Dr. Backus and his team will create visual stimuli in which new cues are paired with old cues, and measure the rate at which the new cues start to be used for perception.  This form of learning is called ‘cue recruitment' and is an exciting new area of vision research that was pioneered by Dr. Backus and his former students.  The results of this study have application in the field of vision therapy.

"We are delighted that Dr. Backus has the opportunity to continue his work in this important area of vision science," said Dr. David Troilo, Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs at the SUNY College of Optometry.  The support of the National Eye Institute is a testament to the contribution that Dr. Backus and his team can make to the field."

State University of New York (SUNY) College of Optometry
The SUNY College of Optometry has nationally and internationally recognized faculty engaged in cutting-edge research in vision science.  Investigators conduct a variety of studies about the visual system and methods for improving visual function.  The College's in-house research facility, the Schnurmacher Institute for Vision Research, coordinates a colloquium series and supports postdoctoral as well as faculty research.