Dr. Joseph F. Rizzo III Awarded U.S. Department of Defense Vision Prosthesis Pilot Study Award

April 05, 2016
DrJosephRizzo400Media Contact: Suzanne Day, Office of Communications

Mass. Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School neuro-ophthalmologist and researcher awarded funding by the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs.

Joseph F. Rizzo III, M.D., has been awarded grant funding as part of the Vision Prosthesis Pilot Study, a Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program of the United States Department of Defense. Director of Neuro-Ophthalmology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and the David Glendenning Cogan Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Rizzo is one of three investigators to receive funding as part of the Vision Prosthesis Pilot Study Awards. His research team will use the support to develop and test a visual prosthesis to restore vision to those with severe visual impairment.

“The goal  . . . is to fund projects exploring novel technologies that will contribute to a working visual prosthesis prototype for individuals who have sustained severe macular degeneration and/or traumatic eye injury,” said Dr. Kenneth Bertram, Principal Assistant for Acquisition of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.  “When the eye and optic nerve are severely damaged, the hope of a cortical visual prosthetic is that by directly stimulating the brain’s visual cortex, it can restore sight. We are very pleased that our initial funding brings us three different approaches to the development of visual prostheses.”   

Dr. Rizzo’s research team has paved the way for a visual prosthetic through collaboration between Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers on the Boston Retinal Implant Project (BRIP). For those with severe injury in both eyes, as sometimes occurs with blast injuries, both the eyes and the optic nerves may have damage, and therefore the connection of the image from the prosthetic eye on to the brain is the challenge.

The BRIP group has already developed a wireless and implantable neural prosthesis for use in the retina — but that relies on a functional optic nerve. With this award, they will develop and test a prosthesis to electrically stimulate the lateral geniculate nucleus — a key relay center in the brain’s visual processing pathway — that will allow signals to skip over the damaged optic nerve and reach visual centers in the brain.

"This grant from the Department of Defense will allow us to pursue a very promising strategy to restore some vision to patients with a wide variety of blinding conditions, including glaucoma and traumatic injury to the optic nerves and eyes,” said Dr. Rizzo.

“This is only the beginning,” said Dr. Bertram, "Some obstacles and direction will be found through the studies of these prototypes. Our initiative is to restore vision and improve the quality of life for our wounded warriors and other Americans who have become blind.”

Information for this release was provided by the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs.

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Mass. Eye and Ear clinicians and scientists are driven by a mission to find cures for blindness, deafness and diseases of the head and neck.  Now united with Schepens Eye Research Institute, Mass. Eye and Ear is the world's largest vision and hearing research center, developing new treatments and cures through discovery and innovation. Mass. Eye and Ear is a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital and trains future medical leaders in ophthalmology and otolaryngology, through residency as well as clinical and research fellowships.  Internationally acclaimed since its founding in 1824, Mass. Eye and Ear employs full-time, board-certified physicians who offer high-quality and affordable specialty care that ranges from the routine to the very complex.  U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Hospitals Survey” has consistently ranked the Mass. Eye and Ear Departments of Otolaryngology and Ophthalmology as top in the nation.  For more information about life-changing care and research, or to learn how you can help, please visit MassEyeAndEar.org.