Young researcher identifies binocular vision gene

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Dr Catherine Leamey from the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Sydney has been awarded the 2008 Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Medical Research for her work in identifying the gene that enables binocular vision.

In the absence of this gene the projections from the two eyes which see the same part of visual space are not aligned with each other in the brain. This has devastating functional consequences - animals that lack the gene behave as if blind.

Most remarkably, Dr Leamey has shown that the acute blockade of all activity in one eye of these animals can rescue vision in the other eye. The restoration of vision indicates that the “blindness” results from suppression, which arises as a consequence of the interocular mismatch.

This is the first time pharmacological blockade of a neural pathway has been shown to cause a gain in visual ability. This has important implications for the development of therapies for both visual and developmental brain disorders such as autism and mental retardation.

The award was made at a special function Friday, 28 November, which was jointly hosted by the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund and the Australia/Israel Chamber of Commerce.


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