Schepens Eye Research Institute
Harvard Medical School
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:
Evaluating the effects of vision impairment on driving skills and behaviors;
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;
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.
Concetta Alberti, Ph.D.