Potential Virtual Reality Therapy for Amblyopia – Resident Research

Video Game as Novel Treatment
Nearly 10 million people in the United States have amblyopia. This disorder of neural development is usually related to ocular misalignment or differing refractive errors in each eye. For young children, patching the stronger eye can improve sight by stimulating development of the weaker eye’s neural pathways. Unfortunately, patching shows declining success with age, with no lasting improvement for patients beyond age 12.

To benefit older children and adults, Dr. Levin works with co-investigators Michael Deiner, PhD, and ophthalmology resident Christopher Aderman, MD. The team optimizes and tests a potential virtual reality therapy developed by San Francisco-based Vivid Vision. In this win-win partnership, Vivid Vision benefits from UCSF expertise to refine its gaming strategy and apply it in a rigorous academic clinical trial.

Motivating Integrated Sight

In the immersive virtual reality video game environment, a brighter, complementary image is shown to the amblyopic eye. This encourages the brain to unlock suppression, enabling the patient to integrate the images seen by the two eyes
In the immersive virtual reality video game environment, a brighter, complementary image is shown to the amblyopic eye. This encourages the brain to unlock suppression, enabling the patient to integrate the images seen by the two eyes

Participants wear headsets and simultaneously use both eyes inside the immersive game environment. To succeed, they must integrate complementary images shown separately to each eye. This platform encourages the brain to engage the weaker eye in cooperation with the stronger eye.

This innovative binocular strategy translates research findings to the clinic. Preliminary data indicate that patients playing this game can improve vision in their lazy eye and see the world “in 3D” for the first time.

Testing New Paradigms
This approach could ultimately shift amblyopia treatment paradigms for younger children. The research may facilitate development of virtual reality-based therapies for other eye/brain conditions as well. The pilot trial also investigates computer-based, self- administered eye tests.  The team compares the results of Vivid Vision’s digital eye tests (interspersed with the games) with standard in-office assessments. “The potential of on-line testing is in itself exciting,” says Dr. Levin “Reliable eye exams, taken at home, would improve our diagnostic reach and add to patient convenience and timeliness.”