Alex Bowers, Ph.D.

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Assistant Scientist
Schepens Eye Research Institute

Assistant Professor
Harvard Medical School 

 

617-912-2512
FAX: 617-912-0112
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Profile

Alex Bowers, MC (Optom), PhD is a research scientist whose primary focus is low vision assessment and rehabilitation. She has made significant contributions to the field as an Optometrist in clinical practice in the UK, as well as an educator and researcher, first at Glasgow Caledonian University and, currently, at Schepens. Her achievements were recognized in 2010 when she was awarded the Borish Outstanding Young Researcher Award from the American Academy of Optometry. In 2013, Dr. Bowers received the prestigious Low Vision Research Award from Envision University, which provides multidisciplinary continuing education and research opportunities for low vision rehabilitation professionals.

Dr. Bowers devotes the majority of her time to research, which includes the supervision and mentoring of trainees within the research environment. Her research encompasses three main areas:

  1. Evaluating the effects of vision impairment on driving skills and behaviors;

  2. Investigating the relationship between driving performance and novel tests of vision and attention to determine which tests have the greatest potential for identifying at-risk drivers;

  3. Evaluating the benefits of optical devices and training to assist visually impaired people when driving and walking.

A major focus of Dr. Bowers’ research has been the implementation of assessment tools in a high-fidelity driving simulator to enable systematic evaluations of drivers with a range of vision impairments. Two studies of drivers with hemianopia resulted in a series of four papers in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, with fifth in preparation. These studies have also resulted in numerous invited conference presentations. A study of drivers with central visual field loss has provided the first data to demonstrate the extent to which a blind area in central vision can delay detection of hazards when driving, and was highlighted in an editorial in JAMA Ophthalmology.

Many patients do not compensate well for their visual field loss with the consequence that potential hazards are either not detected or detected too late for a timely response. Dr. Bowers intends to continue this research by examining the extent to which inadequate scanning at intersections impairs detection of hazards by older drivers (without and with vision impairment) and to evaluate a novel intervention to address such scanning deficits.

Additionally, Dr. Bowers has made major contributions in the field of rehabilitation of patients with hemianopia. She designed and implemented an open-label and then a randomized controlled multi-center clinical trial to evaluate peripheral prism glasses for walking, and also led an on-road, placebo-controlled pilot study of peripheral prism glasses for driving. Through these trials an evidence base has now been established for the utility of the device as a mobility aid. Such evidence-based research is rare in the field of vision rehabilitation.

Currently, Dr. Bowers is leading a laboratory-based study of peripheral prism glasses and perceptual-motor training for patients with hemianopia. A key aspect, which differentiates this study from other studies of rehabilitation interventions for these patients, is the use of functional outcome measures to evaluate mobility performance in simulated and real world walking and driving tasks. Initial results are promising with clear evidence of improved detection of blind side hazards in the driving simulator.

 

Bowers Laboratory

Concetta Alberti, Ph.D.

Scientific Associate

 

 

 

Current Publications

Click here for a PubMed list of abstracts formatted by BioMed Central

  1. Houston K, Churchill J, Luo G, Russell L. Woods RL, Peli E, Bowers AR. (2012) Peripheral prism glasses for hemianopia improve obstacle detection during virtual walking. Optom. Vis. Sci. 89; E-abstract 120979 

  2. Werner L, Jeng K, Doherty A, Bowers AR. (2012) Development and preliminary evaluation of a video-based detection test for homonymous visual field loss. 5th Biennial Military Vision Research Symposium, Schepens Eye Research Institute, Boston, MA. 

  3. Houston K, Churchill J, Wiegand J, Peli E, Luo G, Goldstein RB, Woods RL, Bowers AR. (2013) Perceptual-motor adaptation in hemianopes wearing peripheral prisms is possible: Preliminary results. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 54, ARVO E-Abstract 2759. 

  4. Bowers AR, Sheldon S, Quint J, Hecht H. (2013) Effect of central vision loss on mutual gaze perception: a pilot study. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 54, ARVO E-Abstract 2187.

  5.  Tomasi M, Churchill J, Wiegand JP, Houston Kevin; Peli Eli, Bowers AR, Luo G. (2013) Peripheral prisms increase blindside eye and head scanning movements during outdoor walking in hemianopes: preliminary results. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 54, ARVO E-Abstract 2758. 

  6. Bowers AR, Doherty A, Jeng K, Werner L and Peli E. (2013) Development and preliminary evaluation of a functional perimetry test. Optom. Vis. Sci. 90; E-abstract 130948 

  7. Quint J, Sheldon S, Hecht H and Bowers AR. (2013) Are you looking at me?" Effects of simulated vision impairment on gaze perception. Optom. Vis. Sci. 90; E-abstract 130175 

  8. Bowers AR, Houston K, Goldstein RB, Peli E. (2014) Peripheral prisms and training improve detection of pedestrians by drivers with hemianopia. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci.55 ARVO E-abstract 2155. 

  9. Houston KE, Liu R, Sheldon SS, Peli E, Goldstein RB, Luo G, Woods RL and Bowers AR. (2014) Biased collision judgments by people with left but not right hemianopia. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 55 ARVO E-abstract 4130 

  10. Tomasi M, Bowers AR, Peli E, Luo G. (2014) Compensatory gaze scanning by patients with hemianopia during outdoor walking. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 55 ARVO E-abstract 4131 

  11. Bowers AR, Houston K, Goldstein RB, Peli E. (2014) Do peripheral prisms and training improve timely detection of hazards by drivers with hemianopia? Optom. Vis. Sci. 91; E-abstract 140094 

  12. Houston KE, Woods RL, Luo G, Peli E, and Bowers AR. (2014) Rightward asymmetries in the collision judgments of patients with left homonymous field defects are explained by subclinical left hemispatial neglect. Optom. Vis. Sci. 91; E-abstract 140095 

  13. Houston KE, Peli E, and Bowers AR. (2014) Collision judgments of people with left hemispatial neglect in a walking simulator compared to lane position in a driving simulator. Optom. Vis. Sci. 91; E-abstract 145077

Research Interests

In many parts of the US, driving is the primary means of mobility and being permitted to drive is an important factor in quality of life for most people.

Dr. Bowers' research encompasses three main areas:

  1. Evaluating the effects of vision impairment on driving skills and behaviors;

  2. Investigating the relationship between driving performance and novel tests of vision and attention to determine which tests have the greatest potential for identifying at-risk drivers;

  3. Evaluating the benefits of optical devices to assist visually impaired people when driving and walking. 

The Bowers Laboratory uses the realistic, but controlled environment of a high-fidelity driving simulator to evaluate the impact of central vision loss (e.g. due to age-related macular degeneration), peripheral vision loss (e.g. due to glaucoma or retinitis pigmentosa) and hemianopic visual field loss (loss of half the field of vision e.g. after a stroke). The lab is evaluating the effects of these vision impairments on detection of hazards while driving, on steering and lane-keeping skills, and on eye and head movement behaviors.

When evaluating the benefits of optical devices for mobility tasks, we use two main approaches:

  1. Laboratory-based studies including assessments in controlled environments such as the driving simulator;

  2. Multi-center clinical trials using community-based low vision clinics where the primary outcome measures are clinical success (whether the devices are still being used 6 months after being prescribed) and participants’ reports of the benefits of the devices (assessed by questionnaires).

Current Research Projects

2012 - 2017 Bioptic driving by visually impaired (PI: Gang Luo, PhD)   National Institutes of Health, Co-investigator
This project addresses when and how bioptic telescopes are used and safety of driving with bioptic telescopes. Using a novel in-car recording system and computerized analysis programs we have developed, we will record participants' daily driving activities for several months and then automatically process the vast amount of data to select segments of interest for analysis. This naturalistic driving evaluation will be complemented by lab-based tests and driving simulator evaluations.

2013 – 2018 Visual field expansion through innovative multiplexing prism design (PI: Eli Peli, OD)   National Institutes of Health, Co-investigator 
Dr. Bowers' role on this project is to design and conduct a multicenter clinical trial of the multiplexing prisms after they have been developed and tested in a lab-based study.

2014   Does change blindness contribute to “looked but failed to see” accidents?
William F. Milton Fund Award, Harvard Medical School, Principal Investigator
This is a one-year award for a preliminary study.