Treatment of the vision disorder, caused by abnormal binocular interaction early in life, has long been thought to be effective only in children. According to research from Daphne Bavelier, a professor in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, and Dennis Levi, a professor and dean of the School of Optometry at the University of California, Berkeley, both children and adults with amblyopia can improve their perceptual performance through extensive practice on a challenging visual task, such as a first-person shooter video game.
"I was tasked to create a video game that gives different images to each eye, with some game objects only seen by the amblyopic eye," says Jessica Bayliss, an associate professor in the School for Interactive Games and Media at RIT. "Thirteen undergraduate students have worked with me to bring the project to fruition and now the software is being used by subjects successfully."
The video game treatment is a far cry from traditional treatment, where an eye patch covers the good eye for hours during the day, forcing the brain to use the bad eye. While video games may be a more fun and less disruptive option, there is a definite learning curve for patients who are not familiar with first-person shooters.
"A problem we encountered was that too much detail in the graphics would cause players to get lost and nauseated," Bayliss says. "By creating several training sequences and less detailed textures on the walls, players were eventually able to navigate the world without feeling sick."
The team is continuing testing and hopes the game can someday be played in-home at the patient's convenience. The team is also working on a family-friendly version of the game that incorporates cartoon characters, bright clean textures, and weapons that shoot orbs and spells.
The amblyopia treatment is funded by the National Eye Institute, the McDonnell Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research.