Vision researcher receives a $1.4-million federal grant

Vision researcher Doug Crawford has been awarded a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Visual-Motor Neuroscience, a federal government commitment that will enable Crawford to greatly expand his investigation into how our brains transform visual information into action.

Since 2001, Crawford (left) has been funded as a Tier 2 CRC. He and his visuomotor neuroscience research team at York’s Centre for Vision Research have been measuring eye, head, and arm movements, creating computer simulations and recording brain activity to learn how we see an object, remember where it is and reach out to grasp it. This work holds significant promise for treatment of medical conditions such as stroke and could lead to developing prosthetic devices to mimic human visual and motor function. As a Tier 1 CRC, Crawford will receive $200,000 per year for the next seven years and another $203,584 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) for laboratory upgrades and equipment to expand this valuable research.

"The advancement of Professor Crawford into a position as a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair once again recognizes the excellence of his research through international peer review," said Stan Shapson, vice-president research & innovation at York. "It also builds on York’s renowned centre of excellence in vision research, enhancing our ability to undertake leading-edge, interdisciplinary health-science research."

Crawford’s research team has developed computational models for 3-D eye and head movement and spatial memory across these movements, and completed the first model of the 3-D visuo-motor transformations for visually guided arm movements. Recently, they used brain imaging technology to pinpoint the key place in the brain where visual perception stops and control of movement begins – findings they are putting to work in a clinical setting to help rehabilitate stroke patients. 

"Like reverse-engineers, we are asking what it is that one would need to know in order to build a brain that sees and moves," said Crawford. "The ultimate goal of all of our projects is to develop an accurate computational model that describes all of the behaviours and mechanisms involved in vision and movement, to incorporate all of the main signals used by the brain in doing this, and to predict the clinical consequences of damage to the brain." 

Left: Researching the connection between vision and movement

Maxime Bernier, minister of industry and minister responsible for the Canada Research Chairs Program, announced the Tier 1 Chair for Crawford May 23. It is part of an $83.7-million investment in Canada Research Chairs across the country. This includes $10.4 million in CFI infrastructure funding. 

"Our newly released science and technology strategy – Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage – recognizes the importance of doing more to turn ideas into innovations that provide solutions to our environment, health and other important challenges, and to improve Canada’s economic competitiveness," said Bernier.