September 20, 2021
Researcher assists research participant with VR device

Biomedical engineer Tara Alvarez tests VR equipment used in the diagnosis and treatment of convergence insufficiency, an eye coordination disorder experienced by millions of concussion patients with lingering symptoms.

Nearly half of adolescents and young adults with lingering symptoms of concussion suffer from an eye coordination disorder that causes blurred and double vision, headaches and difficulties concentrating. There is no proven method for treating the condition when it occurs after a head injury.

“The disorder makes it hard to read books, work on a computer or even use a smartphone, and the impact on cognition and learning can be severe. It also delays the return to sports, work and driving for young people,” said Tara Alvarez, a professor of biomedical engineering at NJIT and an expert on convergence insufficiency (CI), a condition in which the muscles that control eye movements don’t coordinate to focus on near objects.

Backed by a $3.7 million grant from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health, Alvarez is leading a multi-institutional team of engineers, optometrists, vision researchers, sports medicine physicians, balance experts and biostatisticians seeking to establish guidelines that will help clinicians diagnose and treat concussion-related CI. The funding follows a $2 million NIH grant that enabled Alvarez and her longtime clinical partner, Mitchell Scheiman, O.D., Ph.D., the dean of research at Salus University, to first investigate CI in people without head injuries.