American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science

Improving Health and Medicine

Vision Research at the Weizmann Institute of Science

TAGS: Brain, Senses

The Weizmann Institute of Science has active, multidisciplinary research underway in a number of vision-related fields. Such projects range from the basic biochemistry of the retina to studies of the brain in action. Interdisciplinary groups study computer-aided and artificial vision, and experiment with vaccines which could prevent degenerative diseases that affect vision. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute have already made significant discoveries in several unique vision-related areas, including:

Learning a new sense

Vision Research at the Weizmann Institute of Science

Credit: Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science

Rats use a sense that humans don’t: “whisking.” They move their facial whiskers back and forth about eight times a second to locate objects in their environment. Could humans acquire this sense? And if so, what could understanding the process of adapting to new sensory input tell us about how humans normally sense? At the Weizmann Institute of Science, researchers explored these questions by attaching plastic “whiskers” to the fingers of blindfolded volunteers and asking them to carry out a location task. The findings have yielded new insight into the process of sensing, and they may point to new avenues in developing aids for the blind. Read more here and here

Blocking loss of eyesight in glaucoma-like disease

Glaucoma, which affects 1 percent of the adult population, is the main cause of blindness in adults. The Weizmann Institute’s Prof. Michal Schwartz has succeeded in stopping the progressive loss of eyesight in animals with a glaucoma-like disease. Her work suggests that Copaxone®, a drug developed at the Weizmann Institute of Science to treat multiple sclerosis, may also stop, or at least slow down, the loss of eyesight in people with chronic glaucoma. Read more

Revealing the Chemistry of Vision

A photon — a particle of light emitted into space by the sun at the speed of light — reaches Earth in 4.5 minutes at the most. Here, with many of its fellows, it may hit the petal of a wild yellow chrysanthemum. Most photons landing on the flower are absorbed into it. Only a few, which reach the petal at the right wavelength, are reflected from it and reach our eyes, where they collide with retinal proteins. This is the first stage in the enigmatic process of vision. Prof. Mordechai Sheves has done groundbreaking work on the chemistry of vision, and his research on vision’s first instants could help us understand blindness and color blindness. Read more

Laying the groundwork for vision research

The work of Weizmann’s Prof. Amiram Grinvald has already earned him a place in history. For example, an article reviewing the development of man’s understanding of vision begins with Plato’s theory of “visual fire” and ends with elucidation of functional organization in the visual cortex of the brain – an understanding that was made possible by Prof. Grinvald. In the '80s, Prof. Grinvald developed an optical imaging technique that allows the direct visualization of electrical activity in the living brain, leading to profound discoveries. As a result of this work, “researchers currently understand the primary visual cortex better than any other part of the brain.” Read more