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National Institutes of Health Director Hails SUNY Downstate for Groundbreaking Research Targeting Vision Loss

Neurotechnology Pathway Could Help End Blindness for People with Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)


BROOKLYN, NY – According to Francis Collins, PhD, Director of the National Institutes of Health, what’s happening in the labs of Professors Stephen Macknik, PhD, and Susana Martinez Conde, PhD at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University is stuff right out of science fiction – except, it is NOT science fiction.

Today in his weekly NIH Director’s Blog, Dr. Collins highlights the work being done by Drs. Macknik and Martinez-Conde to develop to leverage neurotechnology to restore vision in people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is the leading cause of blindness among people age 50 and older.

Being developed as part of the NIH-led BRAIN Initiative, the OBServ system will use a special pair of glasses that simultaneously tracks eye movement and captures the corresponding visual scene. The encrypted information will be wirelessly streamed to two surgically implanted neuro-prosthetic devices at the rear of the brain, stimulating the visual cortex with the information needed for sight – information the retinas of AMD patients can no longer provide. 

View a video describing the technology here.

“The OBServ project is now actually conceivable thanks to decades of advances in the fields of neuroscience, vision, bioengineering, and bioinformatics research,” writes Dr. Collins. “This project provides hope that once other parts of the brain are fully mapped, it may be possible to design equally innovative systems to help make life easier for people with other disabilities and conditions.”

“The OBServ technology will likely only provide a window of vision equal smaller than the size of an adult thumbnail when held at arm’s length,’ said Dr. Macknik.“ And while that may seem small, it is a huge step forward for those with AMD that will allow them to regain much of the independence they lost when they lost their sight.” Dr. Macknik adds that, while the basic research findings are promising, clinical trials in human subject are still some years away.

Dr. Macknik is a Professor of Ophthalmology, Neurology, Physiology & Pharmacology at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University. He is the Director of SUNY Downstate’s Laboratory of Translational Neuroscience and an Empire Innovator Scholar. Dr. Martinez-Conde is a Professor of Ophthalmology, Neurology, Physiology and Pharmacology, and Empire Innovator Scholar, and leads the Laboratory of Integrative Neuroscience at SUNY Health Science University. 

The technology underlying OBServ is currently being funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation as part of the NIH-led Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies®(BRAIN). 

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About SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University is the borough’s only academic medical center for health education, research, and patient care, and is a 342-bed facility serving the healthcare needs of New York City, and Brooklyn’s 2.6 million residents. University Hospital of Brooklyn (UHB) is Downstate’s teaching hospital, backed by the expertise of an outstanding medical school and the research facilities of a world-class academic center. More than 800 physicians, representing 53 specialties and subspecialties—many of them ranked as tops in their fields—comprise Downstate's staff.

A regional center for cardiac care, neonatal and high-risk infant services, pediatric dialysis, and transplantation, Downstate also houses a major learning center for children with physical ailments or neurological disorders. In addition to UHB, Downstate comprises a College of Medicine, College of Nursing, School of Health Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, and a multifaceted biotechnology initiative, including the Downstate Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT for early-stage and more mature companies, respectively. For more information, visit www.downstate.edu or follow us on Twitter at @sunydownstate.