– Envision announced today that it has awarded two new postdoctoral fellowships to Andrea Urqueta Alfaro, Ph.D., from California and Arun Kumar Krishnan, Ph.D., from India for research to be conducted at its Envision Research Institute (ERI), based here. Both studies are expected to commence in the first quarter of this year. In addition to naming two new fellows to the ERI, Executive Director Laura Walker, Ph.D., announced both of the first round fellows, Tony Succar, Ph.D., from Australia, and Rezaul Karim, Ph.D., from Bangladesh, had been awarded a second year to continue their respective studies.
Fellowships at the ERI provide an educational environment where appointees identify solutions to improve the quality of life for people who are blind or visually impaired. Through mentoring, the fellows are put on the fast track to independent and impactful research careers. Each fellowship is awarded for one year, with a second year contingent on progress in the first.
Dr. Alfaro’s fellowship is being generously funded through a partnership with LC Industries, a sister National Industries for the Blind agency to Envision. She recently received her degree in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley and holds a master’s degree in special education from San Francisco State University. Her dissertation examined engagement and attachment patterns in infants with visual impairment. Two mentors will advise Dr. Alfaro while she conducts her work at the ERI. Dr. Joshua Miele, director of the Video Description Research and Development Center and Description Research and Innovation Lab at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco, will advise on accessibility technologies and multisensory processing pertaining to early childhood education. Dr. Walker will advise Dr. Alfaro on quantitative research techniques and analysis.
“Dr. Alfaro has demonstrated independence in research as few are endeavoring to explore the development of blind and visually impaired children,” said Dr. Walker. “This is a much-needed area of research of critical importance to our work at Envision, and we are excited to be paving the way for her to carry out her study.”
Dr. Krishnan’s fellowship is being generously funded through a partnership with Bosma Enterprises, a sister National Industries for the Blind agency to Envision. Dr. Krishnan has a background in pediatric optometry and low vision and holds a bachelor’s degree in Optometry from the Elite School of Optometry in Chennai, India. He completed his Ph.D. with Harold Bedell, Ph.D., at the University of Houston, and prepared a dissertation focused on structural and functional changes at the preferred retinal locus in patients with central field loss. While working at the ERI, he will be mentored by Dr. Susana Chung, O.D., Ph.D., from the University of California, Berkeley, a leader in his chosen area of research.
“Dr. Krishnan has a clear passion for low-vision rehabilitation research,” said Dr. Walker. “We are proud to be able to provide a home for his studies at the ERI and delighted that he will be guided in his research by Dr. Susana Chung.”
After releasing a call for applicants last summer, Envision heard from numerous candidates who submitted letters of intent to apply. Envision selected and invited five candidates to submit full research and training proposals based on their qualifications, their potential for future research careers and the alignment of their proposed projects with the mission of the ERI. All applications were reviewed externally by experts in blind and visually impaired (BVI) research. Those who were not invited to apply this year were given constructive feedback to help prepare a future application.
The two new research fellows will now join their first round counterparts who made significant progress in blind and low vision research.
“Year one of the work at the ERI will typically involve a lot of background and development of the study parameters, training and getting all required approvals and protocols in place. Fellows are required to make scientific presentations and hit progress benchmarks throughout the year. We are delighted that both of our current fellows have made sufficient progress in their respective studies to merit continuation for a second year,” said Dr. Walker.
Further information on the Envision Research Institute and its Fellowship program can be found online at research.envisionus.com
About Envision: Envision promotes advocacy and independence for those who are blind or low vision. Founded in 1933, Envision is one of the largest employers of individuals with vision loss in the nation. Headquartered in Wichita, Kan., Envision’s mission is to improve the quality of life and provide inspiration for the blind and visually impaired through employment, outreach, rehabilitation, education and research. For more information, visit www.envisionus.com.
RESEARCH FELLOWS PROJECT DETAILS
COORDINATED JOINT ENGAGEMENT, ATTACHMENT, AND HAPTIC DEVELOPMENT IN INFANTS WITH VISUAL IMPAIRMENTS
Andrea Urqueta Alfaro, Ph.D., will study spatial cognitive development in infants who are blind or visually impaired. Understanding how blind and visually impaired children develop in contrast to their typically developing peers will inform early childhood programs, including Envision’s own Early Childhood Development Center.
STRUCTURE-FUNCTION RELATION AT THE PREFERRED RETINAL LOCUS OF SUBJECTS WITH AGE-RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATION
Arun Kumar Krishnan, Ph.D., will conduct a study of macular lesions in patients with central field loss, exploring applications that improve reading performance for such patients. Macular degeneration is most common in older adults and comprises the vast majority of clients currently seen in Envision’s Vision Rehabilitation Clinic. The chief complaint of these clients is this inability to read. Dr. Krishnan’s research will deepen our understanding of how remaining vision can best be utilized and retrained to regain reading function.
RESTORING FUNCTIONAL 3D VISION IN MACULAR DEGENERATION
Tony Succar, Ph.D., is developing a rehabilitation intervention to restore depth perception in patients with age-related macular degeneration. Depth perception impacts activities of daily living in which we interact with our environment, such as reaching for objects or judging distances while walking or driving. For people with macular degeneration, the brain may begin to favor the “good” eye and ignore the “bad” eye. When this happens, depth perception is lost and individuals may need to slow down to compensate for clumsy movements. Using visual rehabilitation, we are training the two eyes to work together again, with the goal of restoring depth vision and improving overall quality of life.
TACTILE OBJECT UNDERSTANDING AND CHARACTERIZATION
Rezaul Karim, Ph.D., is examining how lifetime visual experience changes the brain when appreciating objects through touch. Our brains are wired during development to recognize, remember and understand the beauty of objects in our world. Does this wiring depend on the senses feeding the brain? Blind and low vision individuals may have a fundamentally different tactile perception of objects. Through behavioral and brain-imaging studies, Dr. Karim is examining how visual experience competes with tactile (touching) experience during object perception. Understanding these differences will inform designers of accessibility devices as well as contribute to our overall understanding of neural plasticity.