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The faculty at Berkeley Optometry constitute a prestigious group of educators and researchers. This compendium of research provides a quick summary of their work and research interests.


Marty Banks, PhD

Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Visual space perception and sensory combination

We are particularly interested in determining how efficiently human observers utilize the available stimulus information while performing perceptual tasks and also in applying the results to emerging technologies such as virtual reality.
Our research involves three topics: (1) the use of motion and stereoscopic information to determine the spatial layout of the visible environment and one’s motion through that environment, (2) the combination of information from more than one sense modality (e.g., vision and touch), (3) the construction and evaluation of devices for creating useful virtual environments (e.g., vision, vestibular, and touch).

Banks Lab Website

Lu Chen, MD, PhD

Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Corneal Inflammation, Lymph/Blood Vascular Biology, Immunology, Transplantation

Our research focuses on molecular and cellular mechanisms of ocular inflammation and immunity, particularly those involved in lymphatic and blood vessel development and regulation.
Unlike blood vessels which have been studied extensively in the past, lymphatic research represents an explosive field of new discovery largely owing to the recent identification of several lymphatic specific markers. The cornea provides an ideal tissue for vascular studies due to its accessible location, transparent nature, and vessel-free and vessel-inducible characters. Once induced, corneal lymphatic vessels enhance high volume delivery of antigens and immune cells, and accelerate inflammation and transplant rejection. Our primary long-term goal is to elucidate the basic molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying lymphatic vessel development and to discover novel therapeutic targets for lymphatic-related diseases both inside and outside of the eye.

Research on corneal lymphatic vessels has broader clinical implications beyond the treatment of ocular diseases alone, since the lymphatic network penetrates most tissues in the body, and its dysfunctions are involved in a diverse array of disorders which include but are not limited to cancer metastasis, diabetes, delayed wound healing, autoimmune diseases, and lymphedema.

Chen Lab Website

Susanna Chung, OD, PhD

Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Cortical adaptation and plasticity in response to vision loss
The ultimate goals of our research program are to understand the various limiting factors on visual performance in people with visual impairment, and to devise methods, devices or rehabilitative strategies to improve the functional vision of these people, thereby improving their quality of life.

Research in our lab focuses on the understanding of how the visual system works in people with normal vision, as well as in people with uncorrectable subnormal vision (visual impairment). Uncorrectable sub-normal vision can occur as a result of an eye disease (e.g., age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of visual impairment in the US for people over the age of 65), or even in the absence of an eye disease (amblyopia, or “lazy eye”).

Chung Lab Website

John Flanagan, OD, PhD, DSc(hon), FCOptom, FAAO

Dean and Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, neuroscience and neurobiology

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Flanagan Profile Page

John Flannery, PhD

Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Cellular and molecular neuroscience

One of the major goals of our laboratory is to develop therapeutic approaches that will slow or prevent the loss of rods, cones, RPE and other cells in retinal degenerations.
Retinal Degeneration and blindness result from the loss of rod and cone photoreceptors due to mutations in these cells or in their closely interacting and supportive retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), from environmental or poorly defined age-related factors, or the actions of other retinal neurons, glia or vascular elements. Relatively little is known about precisely why photoreceptors die in any of the many different retinal degenerations, and virtually no effective therapy exists for most of these diseases.

Flannery Lab Website

Suzie Fleiszig, OD, PhD, FAAO

Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Microbiology, immunology, infectious disease, corneal and tear physiology

We are interested in establishing how the healthy cornea resists infection, how contact lens wear and other predisposing factors could compromise these defenses, and what bacterial virulence factors are involved in initiating infection.
Research in my laboratory focuses on the pathogenesis of bacterial infections of the cornea. The principal aim of my research is to determine why patients who wear contact lenses are prone to infectious keratitis. These infections most often involve the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa and can lead to severe vision loss. The results of initial studies indicated that ocular flora is altered in some contact lens wearers and that a large proportion of patients’ lens cases are contaminated with bacteria during normal use. However, neither of these phenomena entirely explain the pathogenesis of infection, since in general bacteria cannot infect a healthy cornea, even when introduced in large numbers. This implies that there must be some form of compromise, in addition to bacterial contamination of the eye before the infectious process can begin.

Fleiszig Lab Website

Ralph Freeman, OD, PhD

Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Central Visual Pathways: Systems and Computational Neuroscience

Our laboratory is concerned with the neural organization of central visual pathways in the brain.
We are interested in how visual information is encoded, transmitted and detected. We seek to determine the neural basis of specific aspects of visual performance. In addition to the consideration of normal visual organization, we are interested in development and plasticity of vision. What is genetically determined and what is shaped by the visual environment?

Freeman Profile Page

Xiaohua Gong, PhD

Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Molecular mechanisms for eye development and disease

Ultimately, we would like to develop biological and chemical tools to diagnose, prevent, or cure related human eye diseases.
Research in our lab has been directed toward the study of molecular and cellular mechanisms that control vertebrate organ-genesis and diseases, mainly, eye development and ocular diseases, by using multidisciplinary techniques from the fields of molecular and cellular biology, genetics, biochemistry, and electrophysiology etc. We are particularly interested in identification and characterization of novel genetic factors that play essential roles in the development of the eye as well as in pathological processes of diseases such as retinal degeneration, vascular disorders, and cataracts.

Gong Lab Website

Karsten Gronert, PhD

Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Intrinsic Protective Circuits in Ocular Inflammatory, Immune and Wound Healing Responses

Research efforts in the Gronert Laboratory are part of a new paradigm that has established lipid circuits as critical regulators for the successful execution of a normal healthy inflammatory response.
These lipid circuits are essential components of a “resolution program” that helps remodel injured tissue, removes spent white blood cells and naturally terminates the inflammatory response. Intense research efforts in the last few years by a small group of research teams around the world has spurred enormous interest in these resident protective lipid circuits as a major target for the development of much needed novel drugs for the treatment of inflammatory diseases. Our research team is focused on elucidating the role of these endogenous protective circuits in inflammation and wound healing and to define their critical regulation by dietary omega-3 PUFA (fish oils). Karsten Gronert was a member of the research team that discovered that fish oils (omega-3 PUFA) are converted to specific protective lipid signals in the body. These findings have provided a molecular mechanism for the remarkable beneficial actions of dietary omega-3 PUFA, which has eluded scientist for decades.

Gronert Profile Page

Stanley Klein, PhD

Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

High resolution neuroscience in humans

In our laboratory, we do psychophysical experiments to learn about the multiple stages of visual processing. Our recent research has explored the role of perceptual learning, attention and binocular interactions.
Single Cone Psychophysics. We are using Austin Roorda’s adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope (AOSLO) for human psychophysics. The AOSLO has the capability of stimulating individual cones repeatedly, with the ability to go to the same cones over years. AOSLO’s unique capabilities enable us to learn about fine-grained spatio-temporal-chromatic nonlinear visual processing that was previously not available for investigation. Modeling of Spatial Vision. The visual system is assumed to consist of an enormous number of spatial filters with different positions, sizes, orientations and bandwidths. These filters are arranged in sequential stages with nonlinear interactions between and within the stages. Nonlinear Systems Analysis with Application to Localizing VEP Sources. The use of fMRI and MRI scans for imaging brain activity has created much excitement among brain researchers. We have developed a new approach that combines nonlinear analysis, MRI, fMRI and the visual evoked potential (VEP) should reveals the underlying neural generators of visual cortex with a temporal resolution 100-1000 times better than is possible with fMRI.

Klein Lab Website

Dennis Levi, OD, PhD

Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Pattern vision, abnormal visual development

Research in our lab focuses on how we perceive visual forms and patterns, and how form perception is degrade by abnormal visual experience early in life (amblyopia).
Specifically, we use psychophysics, computational modeling and brain imaging (fMRI) to study the neural mechanisms of normal pattern vision in humans, and to learn how they are degraded by abnormal visual experience (amblyopia). While amblyopia is known to influence the properties of neurons in cortical area V1 recent work in our laboratory suggests that amblyopia may also result in damage to higher cortical areas.

Levi Lab Website

Meng Lin, OD, PhD

Professor of Clinical Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Ocular Surface Physiology

Our goals are to explore new models and strategies for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of ocular anomalies by conducting patient-based clinical studies/trials, as well as translational research.
We also provide training for young professionals who are interested in, or want to pursue careers in, clinical research. In addition to directing the Clinical Researdh Center (CRC), Dr. Meng is also Chief of the Ocular Surface Imaging Clinic, and Co-Chief of the Dry Eye Clinic at Berkeley Optometry. Other duties include Co-Director of theTranslational Research CORE Facility.

Meng Lin Profile Page

Maria Liu, OD, PhD

Assistant Professor of Clinical Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Optical Control of Myopia Progression

Myopia has become increasingly common the world over, at least in part due to our visual habits and increased time devoted to near activities, such as smartphones and laptops.
The emphasis of my research has been on the investigation of optical influences on emmetropization and the development of myopia. Using chicken as a model, I have identified a number of optical designs that significantly inhibit myopia progression, thus have potential translational value in controlling human myopia. Additionally, I have been designing and fitting contact lenses to young guinea pig cornea to evaluate the safety, feasibility and effectiveness of contact lenses as a method of inducing defocus for myopia research in mammalian models.

Maria Liu Profile Page

Nancy McNamara, OD, PhD

Associate Professor of Clinical Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Molecular and Cellular Laboratory

Dr. McNamara’s research centers on understanding the role of innate immunity in protecting host epithelial cells from environmental injury.
Mucosal epithelial cells interface with the environment at all body surfaces, including the eye. Thus, the mucosa is often the first line of defense against environmental injury. Mucosal cells use a general defense strategy and are believed to play a critical role in regulating the more powerful adaptive immune response. Unfortunately, sometimes the immune system goes into overdrive and creates a pathological state. Examples of this include ocular allergy, dry eye disease, bacterial infection and even cancer. In each of these disease entities there is an immunological component that either initiates or enhances the disease state. Dr. McNamara’s work focuses on dissecting the molecular events that underlie early immune responses. Her research program involves clinical studies of the human ocular surface, as well as both in vivo and in vitro studies of the immune pathways that promote inflammation in the pathological state. This work will lead to a better understanding of the molecular patterns that contribute to pathology and suggest new strategies for modulating the response in favor of the host.

Nancy McNamara Profile Page

Bruno A. Olshausen, PhD

Professor of Vision Science, Optometry and Neuroscience

Research Interests

Computational models of sensory coding and visual perception

Each waking moment, our brain is bombarded by sensory information, estimated to be nearly one gigabit/sec. Somehow, we make sense of this data stream by extracting the forms of spatiotemporal structure embedded in it, and from this we build a model of the world containing objects, surfaces, and other relevant information for guiding action. The overarching goal of research in my laboratory is to understand how this process occurs in the brain, focusing especially on the thalamo-cortical system.
One major line of work is to develop probabilistic models of natural images, and to construct neural circuits capable of representing images in terms of these models. For example, we have developed a model of natural images based on the principle of sparse coding — in which the retinal image is explained in terms of a small number of events at any given point in time — and we have shown that the receptive field properties that emerge in such a system match those found in the primary visual cortex (V1) of mammals. The suggestion then is that V1 may be operating, at least in part, according to a similar principle. We are currently working on extending this model to learn invariances from natural image sequences, in addition to building models composed of multiple layers to capture the hierarchical structure of visual cortex.

Olshausen Lab Website

Deborah Orel-Bixler, OD, PhD, FAAO

Professor of Clinical Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Assessment of visual abilities in infants, children and special-needs population; visual evoked potentials; vision screening; and photorefraction

Dr. Orel-Bixler is director of the VIP clinical center at the UCB School of Optometry. Her current study is a multi-phased, multi-center, interdisciplinary, clinical study whose purpose is to evaluate the accuracy of screening tests used to identify preschool-aged children in need of further evaluation for vision disorders.
The primary goal of the VIP Study is to determine whether there are tests or combinations of tests that can be used effectively to determine which preschoolers would benefit from a comprehensive eye examination to detect amblyopia, strabismus, significant refractive errors, and associated risk factors.

Orel-Bixler Lab Website

Teresa Puthussery, OD, PhD

Assistant Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Retinal Neurobiology and Neurophysiology

We are interested in how visual signals are encoded and transmitted by neurons in the healthy retina and how signaling is perturbed during the course of retinal degeneration.
Ongoing projects in the lab are addressing the following questions:

  • How do retinal neurons extract specific features such as motion and spatial detail from the visual environment?
  • How do different types of neurotransmitter receptors and ion channels shape the response properties of retinal neurons?
  • How do mutations in the molecular machinery of cone-photoreceptors lead to retinal degeneration?
  • How does the structure and function of the inner retinal circuitry change in response to photoreceptor degeneration?

Puthussery Lab Website

Austin Roorda, PhD

Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

High resolution retinal imaging, adaptive optics, physiological optics, limits of human vision

Our most recent effort involves the development and use of the Adaptive Optics Scanning Laser Ophthalmoscope (AOSLO) for such clinical applications as blood flow, optical sectioning of the retina, microperimetry, precise measurements of fixation and eye-tracking. We are making instruments more robust, and we are making them more compact using state-of-the-art wavefront correcting technology such as MEMS deformable mirrors. Such non-invasive microscopic imaging techniques promise to improve our ability to track, understand and even treat blinding retinal disease.
The human eye has a complex and exquisitely designed optical system, yet when compared with modern optical systems, its image quality is surprisingly poor. Our lab investigates these earliest stages of vision, from the formation of the retinal image to its sampling by the photoreceptor mosaic.

In our research we develop novel instruments to measure and overcome the optical limits of the eye. For example, we employ adaptive optics — a technology originally developed for astronomical imaging from ground-based telescopes — to correct the eye’s aberrations and to image and/or present stimuli to the retina with unprecedented resolution. Overcoming optical limitations with adaptive optics has allowed us to make new discoveries in vision science, from mapping the trichromatic cone mosaic for the first time ever to learning how human visual acuity responds to an aberration correction.

Roorda Lab Website

Michael Silver, PhD

Associate Professor of Vision Science, Optometry and Neuroscience

Research Interests

Neural correlates of human visual perception, attention, and learning

The research in Michael Silver’s laboratory is focused on understanding how the brain constructs representations of the environment and how these representations are modified by cognitive processes such as attention, expectation, and learning.
We address these questions with a combination of behavioral, neuroimaging, electrophysiological, modeling, and pharmacological techniques to study both healthy human participants as well as patients who suffer from diseases that affect perceptual processing. Specifically, we are investigating the neurophysiological and neurochemical substrates of visual attention and perceptual learning, effects of acetylcholine on perception, memory, and neural representations, visual processing in schizophrenia, binocular rivalry, functional subdivisions of the lateral geniculate nucleus, representation of visual space in the brain, and auditory perception.

Silver Lab Website

W. Rowland Taylor, PhD

Professor of Optometry and Vision Science; Researcher

Research Interests

Structure and function of neural circuits in the retina

Ultimately, understanding circuit function in the healthy and diseased retina will aid in the development of treatments designed to restore sight. To this end, it is essential to understand how the neurons encode visual information, and how the biophysical characteristics and neural architecture constrain the performance of the system.
The goal of my research is to understand how neural circuits within the mammalian retina encode and transmit information about the visual environment. The experimental work emphasizes quantitative measurements of neural responses to natural stimuli in the intact retina. We also perform immunohistochemical studies to localize transmitter receptors and channels within specific neural circuits. Additionally, we construct computer models of neurons and circuits, based on realistic morphologies and neural connectivity, and run simulations of circuit function to further test our understanding, and to generate experimentally testable predictions.

Taylor Lab Website

Christine Wildsoet, OD, PhD

Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Research Interests

Eye growth regulation, refractive development and myopia (short-sightedness); application of molecular & neurobiology, advanced imaging, and tissue engineering tools towards understanding mechanisms & developing novel therapies

As an ocular condition, myopia is very common and has significant ramifications in terms of health costs, be it in relation to its management with spectacles, contact lens or refractive surgical correction, or the treatment of associated complications, high myopia being a leading cause of blindness. My recent work has been mainly animal-based, using the chick as an animal model for myopia although there are many questions ripe for answering in human myopia research as well. This field of research is both exciting and fast moving.
My research interests are mainly centered around refractive development and myopia (short-sightedness), although my interests extend beyond this to include intraocular pressure regulation and glaucoma therapy, and ocular public health issues. I have on-going collaborations, both within and outside the USA, both in myopia research and outside it. The etiology of human myopia is poorly understood; while genetic factors once were considered the main determinant, the current epidemic of myopia in some populations (near 90% in some Asian university student populations!), suggests that the picture is far more complex. Visual experience appears to be an important factor, with near work being apparently provocative although not everyone appears equally susceptible. There are currently as many unanswered questions and answered ones in terms of what aspects of the visual experience are important, the nature of myopia growth signals, and how eyes enlarge.

Wildsoet Lab Website