2017 Excellence in Research Prize and Medal Recipient


Tara Alvarez, Ph.D. is a professor of biomedical engineering, director and founder of the Vision and Neural Engineering Laboratory and director of the Undergraduate Biomedical Engineering Program. She is the lead engineer within a team that is making a difference in treating vision function in brain injury patients, especially children with concussion. Specifically, she is establishing new clinical standards for treating patients with vision dysfunction following brain injury and is working with five major children’s hospitals to assess the effectiveness of her system. This will result in broader impact to further understand what is different in patients with convergence insufficiency (CI) and how the brain changes post-vision therapy. Her system is more cost-effective and can be used within the comfort of one’s home or by a broad array of health care professionals which will revolutionize the way in which people are diagnosed and treated.

The mission of her research is to understand the underlying neural mechanisms that lead to a sustained reduction in visual symptoms and to take that knowledge, integrated with technology, to develop new diagnostic and therapeutic interventions that can be used for personalized point-of-care.

Alvarez’s research was the first to examine the link between vision therapy and the brain. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), she was able to document how the brain changed as a result of vision therapy. In 2016, she and her clinical collaborators published the first paper examining convergence in patients with concussion before and after vision therapy. They showed that the patients’ eye movements improved significantly following therapy. Their proposal, entitled CICON (Convergence Insufficiency in Concussion) will study CI in children with concussion. Alvarez is the lead engineer for CICON and will be installing her novel instrumentation at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Boston Children’s Hospital, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Southern California College of Optometry and Akron Children's Hospital in Ohio. With the knowledge acquired since 2001, she and her team are designing innovative diagnostic and therapeutic interventions with NJIT’s Game Design program.