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Teen losing her vision invents way to see better

Isabelle Chambers' lucky discovery came one night when she was reading past her bedtime. She aimed a floor lamp, using it as an awkward flashlight, to illuminate the pages. She was surprised to see that it did more than shine a light--the angle o...

Isabelle Chambers, 13, of Fargo, shows her research project Friday, April 29, 2916, at Inspired Innovation Lab in Moorhead. She has an autoimmune eye disease called uveitis and is researching how to help others with the condition see better. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Isabelle Chambers, 13, of Fargo, shows her research project Friday at Inspired Innovation Lab in Moorhead. She has an autoimmune eye disease called uveitis and is researching how to help others with the condition see better. (FORUM NEWS SERVICE)

Isabelle Chambers' lucky discovery came one night when she was reading past her bedtime.

She aimed a floor lamp, using it as an awkward flashlight, to illuminate the pages. She was surprised to see that it did more than shine a light-the angle of the light actually improved her vision.

Since the age of 6, Isabelle has had an autoimmune eye disease called uveitis, an inflammation of the pigmented layer in her right eye, that blurs her vision, despite cataract surgery.

Chambers, who now is 13, reasoned that the beam of light struck her eye in a way to cause a pinhole effect, narrowing her pupil and therefore concentrating her focus.

Her furtive finding-her parents had forbid her to read in bed past her bedtime-came as a pleasant surprise.

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For years, Isabelle compensated for her poor vision in her right eye by relying heavily on her left eye. Over time, she came to largely accept the impaired vision in her right eye.

She sees well enough to compete in gymnastics in events that require delicate coordination, including the balance beam and bars.

"We were worried," her mother, Victoria, said of her involvement in gymnastics. "I remember that."

But Isabelle has been able to hit her mark, including the mount and dismount maneuvers, despite blurry vision in her bad eye, apparently because her brain has adjusted.

"I don't really focus on it," she said. "I just really look out of my left eye. I have pretty much no depth perception."

Isabelle's discovery of the benefits of beaming a light at a certain angle could turn out to be more than a novelty.

Not long ago, Isabelle was casting about for a science fair project. At first she thought she would explore research involving bees and pollen.

Then she got the idea to do some research and to keep experimenting with glasses equipped with a light that creates the beneficial pinhole effect that improved her vision.

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She began testing options in the laundry room of her home. She would turn off the lights, and used a standard eye chart for testing vision to gauge the effects of her experiments.

For her "flashlight," she used compact light-emitting diode, or LED, lights. She varied the placement of the lights and logged the effects on her vision, based on her reading of the eye exam chart.

Isabelle found that increasing the intensity of the light decreased the size of her pupil, making for a more pronounced "pinhole" effect that helped focus her vision. She still is experimenting with different angles and placement of the light.

"I want to do more tests on myself," she said. After some refinements, she also wants to begin testing her lighted "pinhole" glasses on others with impaired vision. In a more sophisticated version of the glasses, she wants to add a light sensor, allowing the glasses to adjust to light conditions.

Isabelle tested the glasses on her father, Michael Chambers, who has normal vision, and his vision was somewhat improved, she said.

Her early efforts already have won recognition. Isabelle drew top honors at the North Dakota Science Fair, junior division, as well as a couple of special awards. Her project was called, "Improving Vision in a Pseudophakic Uveitis Patient via Photoactivation."

"I'm very interested in science," Isabelle said.

Victoria, Isabelle's mother, believes the lighted "pinhole" glasses could be useful in a variety of situations where visual acuity is very important, including aviation and microscopy. There is, however, a hurdle to overcome: the loss of peripheral vision.

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"There could be other applications," Victoria said. "Could a sharp shooter become a sharper shooter?"

The military apparently is interested in that possibility. The Army and Navy had representatives at science fair competitions at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University, and Isabelle won awards.

"I think there are some neat opportunities," Victoria said.

Related Topics: HEALTH
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