The proposed research is relevant to public health because a greater understanding of plasticity after central vision loss can inform new therapies for treating low vision and has potential to benefit millions of individuals suffering from low vision. The treatment of low vision is particularly relevant to the mission of the NEI to support research on visual disorders, mechanisms of visual function and preservation of sight. Declines in vision are particularly common in older adults and thus increasing our understanding of how to cre- ate effective means of improving vision is also highly relevant to the mission of the NIA to support research on aging and the health and well-being of older people.



Eligible Ages
Between 18 Years and 89 Years
Eligible Genders
Accepts Healthy Volunteers

Inclusion Criteria

  • Severely impaired vision in both eyes (20/100 or worse) - Diagnosis of Macular Degeneration - Light sensitivity in the macular retina that is at least 10 dB units worse than in peripheral regions, as demonstrated by a scanning laser ophthalmoscope (SLO, MAIA) - Medical record review indicates this disease severity level has been present for at least 2 years.

Exclusion Criteria

  • Inability to sit still in eye tracker for extended periods - Inability to visualize iris on video eye tracker - Bilateral retinal scotomas larger than 20° diameter

Study Design

Study Type
Intervention Model
Parallel Assignment
Primary Purpose
Basic Science
Single (Outcomes Assessor)

Arm Groups

ArmDescriptionAssigned Intervention
Condition 1 - 'Scotoma awareness' Training
Participants will be asked to report the emotion of an emoji face ('happy' vs 'sad') that could appear anywhere on screen. For the entire duration of the training, an explicit, sharp outlined occluder surrounding the participant's true retinal scotoma will be rendered on screen. This occluder will be generated through a gaze-contingent display. The size and the contrast of the target will change adaptively in response to the patient's performance.
  • Behavioral: 'Scotoma awareness' Training
    In the 'scotoma awareness' training, patients will perform visual search and orientation discrimination tasks while an opaque occluder, custom-tailored to overlap each patient's retinal scotoma, is constantly presented on the computer screen.
Condition 2 - Control Training
In the control condition, participants will perform the same task as the scotoma awareness training, without the artificial visible scotoma.
  • Behavioral: Control Training
    The task will be performed in the control group without the visible scotoma.

Recruiting Locations

Birmingham, Alabama 35294
Kristina Visscher

More Details

University of Alabama at Birmingham

Study Contact

Rachel Chua

Detailed Description

This proposal tests a novel 'scotoma awareness' approach to aid those with Macular Degeneration (MD). MD is the leading cause of central vision loss worldwide. MD patients spontaneously develop oculomotor strategies to overcome loss of central vision, such as developing a new peripheral fixation spot to replace the fovea (preferred retinal locus, or PRL). However, development of a PRL and the rate of success in developing one vary greatly, meaning some patients live years without making effective use of their spared vision. Recent, studies in Vision Science show that training healthy participants with gaze-contingent displays, obstructing central vision ('simulated scotoma'), leads to development of PRLs at a faster time scale than found for MD patients. Additionally, oculomotor metrics developed in our lab, are effective in characterizing individual eye movement patterns in simulated scotoma participants. The ability to describe differences in compensatory strategies in MD represents a crucial step towards individualized rehabilitative strategies, which could be further improved by accelerating PRL development. However, it is unclear whether these results can be reproduced in those with MD. It has been suggested that the visible, sharp-edged occluder in the gaze- contingent displays increases scotoma awareness, thus accelerating PRL development. Many MD patients are unaware of the location of their scotoma, with some persisting to use their damaged fovea as a fixation spot. No study to date has translated the use of a simulated scotoma to promote rapid PRL development in MD patients. As a first step towards addressing individual differences in patients and examine whether Vision Science paradigms can be used as a rehabilitative tool in MD, we propose two Aims: In Aim 1 we will use a set of oculomotor metrics to characterize individual profiles of compensation. In Aim 2 we will test the effectiveness of the visible, simulated scotoma as a technique to promote the rapid development of a PRL. Patients will undergo a 'scotoma awareness' training, in which a simulated scotoma, individually tailored for each patient, will be used to help them visualize their region of vision loss. Patients will be tested on the same metrics from Aim 1 and a battery of visual and cognitive assessments before and after the 'scotoma awareness' (or control) sessions. This will enable quantification of the effect of scotoma awareness both in terms of visual abilities and oculomotor strategies, and test the hypothesis that awareness of the location and extent of retinal damage promotes fast PRL development. While challenging, the use of eye tracking techniques in patients could be highly rewarding if this scotoma awareness procedure proves to be effective. A null result would be equally informative, suggesting fundamental differences between physiological and simulated scotomas, thus providing a limit in the use of simulations of retinal damage as a framework for the study of retinal pathologies such as MD. This will provide a unique data set to help those developing interventions for central vision loss understand how approaches to visual rehabilitation, and individual differences, give rise to training outcomes.


Study information shown on this site is derived from ClinicalTrials.gov (a public registry operated by the National Institutes of Health). The listing of studies provided is not certain to be all studies for which you might be eligible. Furthermore, study eligibility requirements can be difficult to understand and may change over time, so it is wise to speak with your medical care provider and individual research study teams when making decisions related to participation.