CIHR has vision for York research group


York’s Centre for Vision Research (CVR) is now able to see its way clearly to training the next generation of researchers in the interdisciplinary study of human vision health, thanks to new funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

The CIHR has awarded $1.4 million over six years to a group of scholars at the CVR for this purpose. The scholars are the largest interdisciplinary vision research group in North America.

Led by York Professor Hugh Wilson ( below right), professor of spatial and computational vision, the group represents a core of Canadian leaders in the study of vision internationally, and includes researchers at Toronto Western Hospital, Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre, and the University of Western Ontario.

“Advanced study of human vision becomes more crucial as the population ages and the need increases for seniors to remain productive members of society,” said Wilson, an Ontario research & development challenge fund (ORDCF) professor.

Wilson pointed out that many people rank blindness as the disability they fear most because vision, of all the senses, is the richest source of information.

Approximately 40 per cent of the cortex of the brain is involved in vision processing, with some three million optic nerve fibres feeding information to the brain, compared to only 30,000 auditory nerve fibres. “That’s 100 times more information coming in from the eyes than the ears,” said Wilson.

The huge range of cortical visual processes explains why so many neurological diseases affect vision, from head injuries to stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and even migraine headaches, said Wilson.

The group of researchers working with Wilson are engaged in an interdisciplinary effort to understand vision and vision health, spanning the fields of molecular biology, chemistry, psychology, neuroscience and computer science. They use the techniques of neuromodelling and MRI to observe the physical processes that take place in the vision areas of the brain.

The group will offer a training program that attracts top Canadian and international students of vision to ensure the continued progress of both fundamental and applied research in Canada. Students will be exposed to both course work and summer workshops, combining contemporary research on normal visual system function with studies of major visual deficits.