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NSU Research Spotlight: NSU Optometry Researcher Wins Envision Research Proposal Competition

Ava Bittner, O.D., Ph.D., FAAO (Dipl.) of Nova Southeastern University

Ava Bittner, O.D., Ph.D., FAAO (Dipl.) of Nova Southeastern University

Envision recently awarded a research prize of $10,000 to a multidisciplinary team led by Ava Bittner, O.D., Ph.D., FAAO (Dipl.) of Nova Southeastern University (NSU), to fund a one-year investigation into the preliminary efficacy of telerehabilitation, i.e., using HIPAA-secure videoconferencing to deliver follow-up low vision services to visually impaired individuals who live in remote areas or otherwise have difficulty getting to a specialist’s office.

The research proposal, “Feasibility of Telerehabilitation for Low Vision,” was a result of a research proposal development seminar held during the 2015 Envision Conference in Denver. It was selected from multiple entries submitted for Envision’s inaugural Research Proposal Competition, an initiative sponsored by the Envision Research Institute.

“We believe the future of low vision research lies in the power of collaboration, and we are delighted to be funding this team, led by Bittner,” said ERI Executive Director Laura Walker, Ph.D. “The research itself is incredibly important for advancing rehabilitative vision care. The most exciting part, however, is how this team has organized to carry it out so effectively.”

“I am absolutely thrilled to receive this award,” said Bittner, an associate professor at NSU’s College of Optometry in Fort Lauderdale-Davie, Fla. “I have wanted to do a study like this for some time, but needed some pilot funds to get underway. I am really excited to work with the research team and to meet others in the area of low vision rehabilitation who have a mutual interest. It is truly wonderful that Envision is supporting low vision research in this way.”

The ERI solicited proposals for projects involving low vision clinical practitioners, educators, and researchers from varying backgrounds to highlight the multidisciplinary nature of the Envision Conference. Applications were evaluated based on innovation, feasibility, team strength, and diversity and impact. The contest will be held again this year as part of Envision’s ongoing efforts to attract and support groundbreaking research specifically related to blindness and low vision. Details about the 2016 Research Proposal Competition will be announced during the 11th annual Envision Conference on Sept. 7-10 in Denver.

“Envision Conference provides a unique opportunity for specialists with different degrees and areas of interest to exchange information, further their education and approach vision issues from new perspectives,” said Michael Epp, Manager of Professional Education at Envision. “To underscore this mission, we introduced an intensive course on how to develop and successfully submit a research project proposal. We encouraged participants to create multidisciplinary teams to execute their proposed projects, and it was truly inspiring to see how eagerly they embraced that objective.”

Bittner received her optometry degree from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in Philadelphia, and her Ph.D. in clinical investigation from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. She completed a clinical research post-doctoral fellowship at the Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore before joining its faculty as an assistant professor. She is currently an associate professor at NSU’s College of Optometry, where she focuses primarily on conducting clinical research involving individuals with visual impairment. Assisting Bittner as co-investigators in the study will be:

  • Tony Succar, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Envision Research Institute in Wichita;
  • John D. Shepherd, M.D., a board-certified ophthalmologist and assistant professor at the University of Nebraska;
  • Angie Bowers, MOT, OTR/L, a licensed occupational therapist employed by Alphapointe, a Kansas City-based agency providing rehabilitation and education for people with vision loss;
  • Vernon Odom, Ph.D., professor of ophthalmology and adjunct associate professor of psychology at West Virginia University, where he also heads the West Virginia Lions Visual Function Laboratory; and
  • Patrick Yoshinaga, O.D., M.P.H., chief of low vision rehabilitation services and assistant professor at the Southern California College of Optometry, at Marshall B. Ketchum University where he teaches in low vision, ophthalmic optics, and public health.

In addition, Andrew Jacobson, a sales engineer at technology solutions provider Black Box Network Services, will serve as wireless consultant on the project. Amy Nau, O.D., an optometrist in the Boston-based offices of Korb & Associates, will serve as a telerehabilitation consultant and Nicole Ross, O.D., M.Sc., FAAO, assistant professor at the New England College of Optometry in Boston, will serve as project manager.

Envision is currently accepting registrations and program submissions for the 2016 Envision Conference with details posted at Further information on the ERI and Envision Conference can be found online at