Experiencing sight loss through virtual reality

Dr Pete Jones is a researcher at The Child Vision Lab, which is part of UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. Dr Jones has received £14,000 of funding from Moorfields Eye Charity to create a virtual reality experience for patients, friends and families of what it is like to have certain eye conditions. Dr Jones says:

Currently children’s eye tests are more of an art than a science. And without precise, quantitative measures, it is hard to detect impairments, monitor progression or evaluate novel treatments. For example, Moorfields is currently trialling new gene and stem cell therapies. But if we aren’t able to measure what a child sees before and after treatment, how will we know if these revolutionary new treatments are useful and cost effective?

I believe simulations can provide a really simple and effective way to help people understand eye disease. For example, they could be used to teach new medical students or to help families and carers understand what sight is like for a loved one. They can also help us to develop simple coping strategies for everyday problems. Wouldn’t it be good if, for example, you could sit in your child’s classroom and see what difference it makes when you move their chair or change the lighting in the room? I also think simulations will become a vital tool for engineers and architects, allowing them to design spaces that are more accessible and welcoming for people with sight loss. Finally, as a scientist, an effective simulator would allow us to systematically explore the effects of visual impairment in a quick, controlled manner.

David Probert, chief executive of Moorfields Eye Hospital, tries out the device

Simulations of sight loss are already being used widely as educational aids, both for public awareness and when training the next generation of healthcare professionals. Traditional simulators consist of physical ‘spectacles’, which use prisms to blur/distort incoming light. More recently, a number of smartphone apps have been launched, which use digital filters to degrade images, using ‘virtual’ or ‘augmented’ reality. Research has consistently demonstrated that these simulators are insufficient, with patients and clinicians consistently rating their depictions of sight loss as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.

Dr Jones’s advanced software platform simulates sight loss using virtual reality. This allows individuals without sight loss to experience sight loss in an immersive, interactive and intuitive way. Dr Jones showcased his work at Moorfields Eye Charity’s thank you reception and at World Sight Day at Moorfields Eye Hospital in City Road. These events were a great opportunity for Moorfields Eye Charity to share with our fundraisers the kind of research they are supporting and to give them the chance to use the cutting edge technology that is being developed at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.

To see what the simulation is like and get a better understanding of Dr Jones’s work, watch this video.