Tessa Dekker

Tessa leads the Child Vision Lab at UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and UCL Division of Language and Psychology. In 2016, she became a Research Fellow on an ESRC Future Leaders Fellowship.

The Child Vision Lab studies the development of vision and vision for action in normal development and eye disease using basic and naturalistic vision tests, neuroimaging, and computational modelling of the neurocognitive processing that support changes in vision.

What was your journey to ophthalmology?

“I have a background in cognitive neuroscience. I am particularly interested in how our senses shape our experience of the world, and especially our vision. The process of how our eyes extract information and transfer it to our brain to inform our decisions is really interesting to me.

I began to focus on this process from a developmental viewpoint and found that we actually don’t know that much about the basic mechanisms in childhood and adolescence. I wanted to find tests to address this issue and use them to understand how the adult visual system is built and how this processes can go wrong. I also felt that using the latest tools in cognitive neuroscience to develop novel, precise, and child-friendly vision tests would be beneficial in helping clinicians develop the best new treatments for this age group as well.”

Can you tell us about your current research?

“I am working across a number of projects at the moment.

I am looking at what happens when some of our sight is lost or poor, and how our other senses compensate for that using computational models that help us understand how the brain processes the information it receives from the eyes and uses it to form decisions.

I am also developing new vision tests that characterise the loss of vision in young children. Having good tests of vision in early life is important because new treatments of eye disease are likely to work better in children. This is because younger brains are more plastic and flexible, so normal function may be recovered more easily. We hope that this work will provide urgently needed tests of treatment strategies for young patients.

Virtual Reality (VR) is another key part of our work at Child Vision Lab. We are finding out what people do and how they cope when they lose vision. So in time, we can help to make everyday life better for them by teaching them to use their other senses more effectively.”

Can you tell us how you are supported by the NIHR Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre?

“Our work is made possible by the NIHR Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre and its support. The BRC has supported us in a number of ways and continues to do so.”

What do you think the future holds for ophthalmology?

“I believe that neural mechanisms will be more important in the future. I believe that more treatments will be developed for developmental disorders that affect the brain and this will translate into ophthalmology as well.

I think in the short term, we will find more custom-sensitive tests for hard-to-test patients like babies and children. Constraints on these patient populations will be lifted and we will test more easily.

Cognitive neuroscience is seeing major developments in adaptive optics (AO) and quantitative and functional MRI methods, and these methods are benefitting hugely from machine learning, image computation modeling, and modern statistics. Ophthalmology can benefit from these developments. We are currently looking at brain data from scans and how we can apply these methodologies to test patient vision in novel ways.