Galactica: The Battle for Improved Vision

In Brief:

  • Convergence insufficiency (CI) is a disease that causes affected people to see double images.
  • Traditional vision therapy was found to improve the eyesight of 73% of children studied who have CI.
  • Dr. Tara Alvarez is developing a 3D game based on Galactica for children with CI to augment traditional therapy.

Imagine going to see a 3D movie only to find that the theater has run out of glasses. You ask yourself, “how bad can it really be?” and decide to watch anyway. Once the movie starts, you cannot see the images clearly. In fact, you see two images of the screen. You cannot even understand what is going on.
Almost 42 million people in the United States struggle with this same visual abnormality every day. People living with this binocular dysfunction called Convergence insufficiency (CI) constantly see double. They have trouble concentrating when they read, which causes intense headaches. Even worse, many of them have attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), which comes with troubling symptoms of its own. Overall, people with CI find it nearly impossible to focus in any environment.

Vision Therapy Can Help
There are treatments available to combat convergence insufficiency. Traditional vision therapy, a noninvasive treatment, aims to teach the eyes and other parts of the visual system to self-correct. Typical therapy includes looking through prisms, completing letter-finding puzzles, and doing pencil pushups, which involves moving a sharpened pencil towards your face as you focus on the tip.

Some physicians question the efficacy of this kind of therapy and do not prescribe it for their patients. To determine its value, the National Institutes of Health funded a multi-center randomized clinical trial to test how well pencil pushups, home vision therapy, and office-based vergence/accommodative therapy worked on children with CI compared to a placebo treatment. Researchers studied children from 9 to 18 years old with symptomatic CI and found that 73% of children who went through real vision therapy experienced reduced symptoms. The researchers concluded that current vision therapy methods are effective, despite disbelief among medical professionals.

Scientists now know that the therapy works but they are still curious about how it affects the brain. Dr. Tara Alvarez, a professor of biomedical engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), and her team are attempting to understand how the brain is changed by vision therapy. Since CI often affects children, Dr.Alvarez and her team recognize the importance of making vision therapy engaging. Accordingly, she is working with two undergraduate students, Robert Gioia, a junior in information technology, and John Vito d’Antonio-Bertagnolli, a senior in biomedical engineering, to create a virtual reality game based on Galactica and other fantasy games. Dr. Alvarez hopes this therapeutic video game will augment normal vision therapy and can be tested in a clinical trial soon.

Living with convergence insufficiency is no easy feat and any treatment that can ease symptoms of CI is a step in the right direction. Interactive and fun video game therapy is promising because of its appeal for kids. Thanks to Dr. Alvarez’s research, many children may soon be playing their way to better sight.

Works Cited

  1. 1. Alvarez, Tara. Personal interview. 6 June 2015.
  2. “Convergence Insufficiency.” Mayo Clinic. 24 June 2014. Web. 6 July 2015.

Katelyn McCreedy: Editor-in-Chief
Vivian Qiang: Creative Team Coordinator
Shreyas Agnihotri: Team Copy Editor
Yashaar Hafizka: Assistant Team Copy Editor
Lotta Meriluoto: Team Graphic Designer

Image Credits:
Feature Image: [ Black holes in fiction from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia License: CC BY-SA 3.0 ]
Story Image: Graphic by Staff Illustrator, Lotta Meriluoto

This article was written by Caroline Bucca. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cYw Editorial Staff

Author: Caroline Bucca

Hello fellow science lovers! I am a senior at Tenafly High School, and soon to be freshman at Georgetown University. I love science and hope to pursue a major in biology and minor in journalism in college. Currently, I participate in numerous science competitions, Science Olympiad, my school’s swim team, student government and curious SCIENCEwriters of course! Writing cSw has been one of the highlights of my high school career because I have been allowed to pursue my two passions (science and writing), and I hope to pursue a similar program in college.

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  1. Hi, Caroline.

    Thank you for this well-written and informative article. This is an important topic that should be more widely understood and your article goes a long way to helping.

    My only quibble is with the figure of 42,000,000 for the prevalence of CI. I think that figure is derived by using the 13% upper limit from some of the school studies and applying it to the entire US population. But getting everyone to use a consistent definition of CI is not easy, and clinicians (who see a non-typical sample) give other percentages. Also, it is not known whether factors such as race, economic status, environment, etc. play a role in prevalence. Maybe the best that can be said is that a lot of people have CI and that there is much discussion about how to determine its frequency in the whole population.

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    • Hello Mr. Dittrich! I completely agree that this number is not as accurate as it should and could be. Like many other diseases, such as ADHD, it is hard to diagnose, and nobody is really sure how many people have it. Despite this, I believe that the number puts the gravity of this disease into perspective, and, like you had said, shows that it is extremely important to learn more about CI and how to diagnose it more quickly and effectively so that patients can improve as quickly as possible! Thank you so much for your comment, it brings up many interesting angles to the further studies of CI!

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  2. Nice article, Caroline! Congratulations!

    Post a Reply
    • Thank you so much Mrs. Coyle!

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