NVRI - Our Research

Understanding the Visual Cortex


The cortical research aims to better understand the flow of information through the brain’s visual pathways and assess how visual processing is influenced by exposure to different environments.


Humans use around 40% of their brain to process vision. When the eyes see something the signal enters the brain via the thalamus, which organizes the inputs from the two eyes before being sent to the primary visual cortex (V1) at the rear of the brain. However, more often than not other areas of the brain are also receiving visual signals and the traditional hierarchical rules are broken, making it challenging to establish how the brain does in fact process vision. At the NVRI we investigate the pathways within V1, V2, V4 and V5 to understand how information is transformed between these steps. Our findings have shown that each processing step leads to a more complex signal that is informed by the input from the outside world and the influence of higher level processing in the brain. Ultimately, what we see is determined not just by what is in the visual scene but also by what we want to find in the visual world.  

Development of a Bionic Eye


The bionics program is part of efforts to restore sight for people with severe vision loss due to retinal diseases. In particular, the relationship between retinal nerve cells and the neuro-feedback they produce when electrically stimulated in an attempt to replicate the natural visual state. 


The retina at the back of the eye contains light detecting cells called photoreceptors. These cells convert light energy into electrical energy, which is transmitted to the brain via several layers of retinal nerve cells. In several forms of blindness, such as age related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, the photoreceptors die but leave the other nerve cells in tact. While those nerve cells cannot detect light themselves, they can respond to electrical stimulation. A bionic eye can bypass the visual display and send the electrical signals from each pixel in a camera to an array of stimulating electrodes positioned on the eye. This sends information to the brain, which in turn experiences a pattern of electrical signals that replicates those experienced via the normally functioning eye. The NVRI is focused on better understanding the connections and developing an electrode array that will ensure a device that can provide the best results possible.   

Visual Diseases


This research program can be broken into three areas of focus:

1) Explore and develop eye biomarkers for neurodegenerative diseases

2) Investigate ocular microvasculature in systemic diseases such as diabetes

3) Applications of eye screening and tele-ophthalmology for common eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration


This NVRI research program is committed to undertaking clinically oriented vision research, including public eye health, aimed at improving the health and well-being of the community. 

1) Eye biomarkers for neurodegenerative diseases 

Related NVRI projects investigate neuronal and non-neuronal tissues of the eye using advanced ophthalmic imaging modalities such as in vivo confocal microscopy, retinal photography and tomographic techniques. The aim is characterise microstructural alterationsspecific to two major neurodegenerativeconditions; Alzheimer’s diseases (AD) and diabetic peripheral neuropathy and identify eye changes which might pre-date brain changes in AD or peripheral nerve damage in diabetic neuropathy, and thus represent a quick, easy, non-invasive method for early detection and monitoring of these diseases.

2) Ocular microvasculature in systemic diseases 

This research focuses on investigating in vivo conjunctival and retinal microvasculature in systemic diseases e.g. hypertension and diabetes by the characterization of subtle and specific vascular alterations (structural and architectural) that may help identifying early stages of the disease, subsequent development to overt phase and monitoring their progression/regression.

3) Eye screening and tele-ophthalmology 

The NVRI conducts research to assess the effectiveness of eye screening programs and tele-ophthalmology for early detection of two major eye conditions; diabetic retinopathy (DR) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in high risk populations.  

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