Restoration of vision has long been a goal of vision research. It has been studied sporadically since the 1700s, but first produced effective vision restoration when arrays of stimulating electrodes were implanted into the brain, initially by Brindley in 1968 and subsequently by William Dobelle in the 1980s. Since that time, there has been rapid development of a wide range of methods for vision restoration, most of which have been examined only in laboratory animals. These include such diverse approaches as implantation of stem cells into retina and the insertion of light-gated channels into inner retinal neurons. The restoration method that has had the most impact recently, however, is the implantation of electronic stimulation devices just below or above the retina, an approach which recently received CE Mark approval in Europe and FDA approval in the United States. The rapid progress in developing vision restoration technologies has resulted in conferences and publications on technical challenges facing each approach. However, there has been little direct comparison of which methods best meet the goals of vision restoration. Discussion between research groups involved with different approaches has been limited in part by the unique constraints on each methodology. For example, implantation of electronic retinal prostheses is routinely performed in blind humans, although much parallel research continues to examine electronic stimulation of retinal ganglion cells in laboratory animals. Human perception can be easily tested, thus this approach has been shown to produce perceptual benefits, unlike other methods such as viral vectors and pluripotent stem cells that involve great risks of pathology in humans and have therefore been conducted largely in laboratory animals. On the other hand, pluripotent stem cells and use of light sensitive prosthetics such as channelrhodopsin might provide important advantages over electronic prostheses, but analysis of this question requires clear identification of the goals of vision restoration. The 29th Symposium of the Center for Visual Science will bring vision restoration researchers together with low vision specialists who study the importance for daily living of such visual capabilities as: foveal versus peripheral vision, motion versus form perception, and high luminance cone versus low luminance rod mediated vision. It will examine vision restoration in light of the variety of disorders that damag vision and the type of information that partially or totally blind patients need to function normaly. It will also consider the role played by central visual pathways in restoring vision, limitations t recovery resulting from alteration of early visual development, and the importance of cortical plasticity in refinement of visual perception as patients adapt to their visual prosthesis. The conference will also provide an opportunity for students and post-docs to present their work in poster sessions, and will make competitive travel fellowships available to the best of the students and post- docs who wish to attend and present their work.
The past decade has seen great advances in both gene therapy for treatment and prevention of visual disorders and a variety of techniques for restoring vision in patients already blind. The 29th Symposium of the Center for Visual Science will bring together engineers, visual scientists and developers of both genetic- based and electronic visual prostheses to consider which visual capabilities are most needed by the blind and how different methods for restoring vision can best satisfy these needs. It will also consider the role of centra visual pathways in restoration, addressing how neuronal plasticity facilitates perceptual recovery and the extent to which abnormal early development and length of deprivation may limit restoration.