The research project ‘NextGenVis’ has been awarded a grant worth € 3.8 million by the European Union. Brain researchers working on this project are trying to find out whether and how the visual cortex adapts and responds to certain visual and brain disorders. Frans Cornelissen and Barbara Nordhjem, brain researchers from the UMCG, are heading this international project, which involves researchers from 15 institutes from six different countries. The research is due to last four years and 15 new PhD candidates will be appointed to carry out the work.
People’s sight can change during the course of their life. This can be caused by common eye diseases, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, or it can be the result of a brain disorder. The researchers want to find out how the brain responds to the changing information it receives from the eyes. Does the structure of the visual cortex, the part of the brain responsible for visual perception, remain the same or does it adapt? A lot of technological progress is currently being made in this field, such as chips that can be implanted into the eye. If these techniques are to be successful, it is essential to find out exactly how the human visual system as a whole (both eyes and brain) works and adapts.
The researchers will use all the latest technology for their study, including highly accurate fMRI scanners for studying the visual cortex, and special equipment for tracking eye movement. They will also develop new analysis techniques, which will enable them to combine all the information they gather to produce new, detailed data about the way the visual brain works.
One of the decisive factors when awarding this grant was the amount of fundamental knowledge that organizations had already gathered about the brain’s ability to adapt. Project leader Frans Cornelissen is therefore highly optimistic about the ‘NextGenVis’ project. ‘It builds on previous successful research and we can rely on a number of existing, solid partnerships. The NextGenVis project is actually a link between several smaller partnerships already operating in Europe’.
The EU has awarded the grant as part of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie programme. The aim of this programme is to give novice researchers a chance to improve their research skills, work alongside established research teams and expand their career opportunities. The grant is awarded on the condition that projects involve several organizations from a number of European countries and close cooperation between research institutes and industry.
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