Support and Grants

The graduate Ph.D. program in Vision Science began over 75 years ago. Today it comprises 35 well-funded faculty members from 11 departments, including optometry, psychology, public health, molecular and cell biology, neurobiology, neuroscience, infectious disease and immunology, bioengineering, computer science, electrical engineering and chemical engineering.

Funding Sources

Total includes all research grants, plus NIH CORE, Training, K12, T-35, UC Berkeley Grants and Fellowships, and FSREP.

Recent Grants

East Bay Community Foundation
Mechanistic Studies of Retinits Pigmentosis (RP) in Genetic Models
PI: Xiaohua Gong
May, 2021

Research Summary
Retinits Pigmentosis (RP) as well as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of untreatable blindness in industrialized countries, are often associated with alterations in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), which ultimately leads to photoreceptor cell death. RPE plays many essential roles in photoreceptor homeostasis and survival throughout life. The goal of this project will test a novel hypothesis that the sodium/proton exchanger 8 (NHE8) regulates the levels of specific downstream targets that are required for the polarity and functions of RPE cells. We will identify the downstream targets of NHE8 in RPE by investigating molecular and cellular differences between the wild-type and NHE8 mutant retinas.

National Eye Institute
Cataractogenesis, Connexin Mutants and Genetic Modifier(s)
PI: Xiaohua Gong
April, 2021

Research Summary
The eye lens is a syncytial unit coupled by gap junctions; our vision depends on its optical and mechanical properties, such as transparency, refractive index, stiffness and accommodation. This proposal will evaluate a new hypothesis that these properties are achieved through the coordinated roles of gap junctions and cytoskeletal components during lens morphogenesis. Aging, genetic variances and other factors can trigger the pathological conditions in lens cells leading to cataracts, which remain as the leading cause of blindness in the world. Genetic variances of membrane/cytoskeletal proteins influence lens transparency and biomechanics. This research proposal will examine this new hypothesis and expand our knowledge of cataract etiology and prevention.

NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program
Smartglasses for all
PI: Emily Cooper
March, 2021

Research Summary
This project will exploit behavioral, psychophysical, and computational approaches to develop insights that advance both our basic and applied understanding of human visual perception. Customized laboratory display and optical equipment will be used in conjunction with state-of-the-art wearable systems to study how people perceive natural and augmented visual stimuli. Guidelines will be developed for how best to design emerging visual display systems that merge digital information with natural vision; these guidelines will encompass populations of people with both typical and impaired vision. The research activities will also advance our fundamental knowledge of human vision by focusing on the perception of complex, binocular stimuli; thus, project outcomes will contribute insights that hasten the development of next-generation technologies while deepening our basic understanding of how humans sense and perceive the natural world.

Glaucoma Research Foundation
A novel approach to assess selective ganglion cell vulnerability in glaucoma
PI: Teresa Puthussery
March, 2021

Research Summary
Glaucoma is a progressive blinding disease that leads to the degeneration of ganglion cells, the nerve cells that transmit visual signals from the eye to the brain. There are many different ganglion cell subtypes in the human retina, each of which detects different features in the environment such as color, motion and fine spatial detail. In this study, we will use a novel molecular approach to determine whether specific ganglion cell subtypes are selectively lost in post-mortem donor eyes from glaucoma patients. The results of this study are expected to inform efforts to develop more sensitive clinical tests for early detection of glaucoma.

Department of Defense
Probing, Modeling & Reprogramming Visual Perception at the Level of Individual Photoreceptors
PI: Ren Ng (EECS) is the lead PI; Co-PIs are Will Tuten, Bruno Olshausen, and Austin Roorda.
February, 2021

Research Summary
Our perception of the world differs markedly from the physical retinal image. Photoreceptors are punctate, yet perception is spatially continuous. Retinal images are highly dynamic due to fixational drift and saccades, yet perception is stable. Cone cells are discretized and unevenly sampled, yet color perception is continuous and consistent. That this is so makes sense, because the computational goal of the brain is to infer properties of the world from image measurements, not to perceive the retinal image per se. However, the actual neural mechanisms underlying these inferential computations remain largely a mystery. In this project, we seek to elucidate this remarkable neural process by probing, modeling, reprogramming and manipulating visual perception at the level of individual photoreceptors. We aim to do this in the fovea – the most important retinal area, but least studied from a physiological perspective because of its intricacy.

Establishing the limits of perceptual interference for visual motion
PI: Emily Cooper and Tyler Manning
January, 2021

Research Summary
This project has the potential to produce novel insights into fundamental computations in sensory perception, particularly in the context of visual motion perception. Gaining a better grasp of human visual motion perception has the potential for long-term public health relevance because it may inform our understanding of the effects of visual impairment, as well as the design of visual enhancement technologies.

Ameican Academy of Optometry
COVID-19: SARS-Cov-2 Infection at the ocular surface
PI: Suzanne Fleiszig
December, 2020

Cooper Vision
Efficay of multizone lenses in chicks compared
PI: Wildsoet
December, 2020

Subcontract UC Santa Cruz
Gaze-contingent computer screen magnification control for people with low vision
PI: Susana Chung
September, 2020

Research Summary
People with low vision often use screen magnification software to read on a computer screen. Since a magnifier expands the screen content beyond the physical size of the screen (the “viewport”), it is necessary to move the content using the mouse so that the portion of interest falls within the viewport. This project will facilitate use of a screen magnifier by means of a new software system that relies on the user’s own gaze to control scrolling when reading with magnification.

Functional impact of fixational eye movements in central vision loss
PI: Susana Chung
September, 2020

Research Summary
Most people who lose their foveal vision due to macular disorders such as age-related macular degeneration often have abnormal fixational eye movements, causing the image of a visual object to move excessively on the retina. The goal of this project is to evaluate whether or not, and how, these abnormal fixational eye movements impact functional vision for people with macular disorders. A solid understanding of the role of fixational eye movements may lead to the development of effective rehabilitation strategies to improve functional vision for people with macular disorders.

Subcontract University of Wisconsin
Neural Codes underlying visual segmentation
PI: Emily Cooper
September, 2020

Research Summary
Normal brain functions arise from the activity of populations of neurons within cortical networks. When normal patterns of activity across neuronal populations go awry, many neurological disorders occur. The proposed research investigates the neural basis for visual segmentation, a fundamental perceptual function with well-known impairments in some patients. The study will advance our understanding of representing sensory information in neuronal populations in the cerebral cortex. The insights gained from the proposed research may contribute to a better understanding of neurological disorders such as dyslexia and visual agnosia that involve malfunction of visual segmentation.

Significance of corenal cell invasion by bacteria
PI: Suzanne Fleiszig
August, 2020

Research Summary
P. aeruginosa is a leading cause of blinding corneal infections that are also difficult to treat using currently available therapeutics. We have found that when these bacteria enter corneal epithelial cells, they traffic to multiple destinations wherein they express unique virulence and survival factors. Here, we will explore the significance of this intracellular diversification to the bacteria, to the host cell, and to infection in vivo, with the goal of better understanding disease pathogenesis and best practices for its management.

Perceptual stability during torsional eyemovements
PI: Jorge Otero-Millan
July, 2020

Research Summary
People with unstable visual perception suffer from vexing and disabling consequences such as blurred and jumping vision, mislocalization of objects, imbalance and falls. This research investigates an understudied but important aspect of eye movement control – torsion – to help develop new diagnostic techniques and treatments for patients suffering from various types of visual disabilities.

Knights Templar Eye Foundation, Inc
PI: Manoj Kulkarni
July, 2020

Eyenovia, Inc
A multi center study of the safey and efficacy of atropine
PI: Sarah Kochik
June, 2020

Homeostatic role and therapeutic potential of the neuroprotective retinal lipoxin circuit
PI: Karsten Gronert and Sivak Flanagan
March, 2020

Research Summary
Glaucoma is the most common neurodegenerative disease in the world and there are no treatments to prevent or rescue the degenerative cascades that lead to blindness. We discovered a neuroprotective lipid mediator pathway in the healthy retina that is disrupted in disease. This project will define the regulation and mechanism of these lipid signals and develop therapeutic methods to restore their protective function in order to stop or prevent glaucoma.

Lens Epithelial cell heterogeneity during development
PI: Xiaohua Gong
February, 2020

Research Summary
This study aims to investigate the molecular and cellular bases of the heterogeneity of lens epithelium that consists of distinct cell clusters with different functions. Moreover, we will explore novel regulatory mechanisms of distinct epithelial cell clusters in lens growth control, lens homeostasis maintenance and various lens pathological outcomes. We will gain insights into fundamental mechanisms about how distinct epithelial cell clusters selectively response to various external stimuli to regulate the lens size and homeostasis over the course of postnatal lens development and aging.