Contributor corner: Nic Fleming

Nic FlemingNic Fleming’s career on what used to be called Fleet Street began 18 years ago on the Daily Express. Through a bizarre series of confusing twists and turns, he progressed from being a hopeless showbusiness reporter and following Princess Diana around to a job as science and medical correspondent at the Daily Telegraph. He is now a freelance writer and editor, working for outlets including New Scientist, the Guardian, the Economist, Nature, BBC Future and Mosaic. 

Twitter: @NicFlem

What is your feature about?
Children with lazy eyes are treated only up to the age of seven or eight because it is assumed that the relevant brain circuits are too fixed for treatment to work beyond this point. Yet research over the last 20 years suggests the brain is more open to being re-moulded later in life than previously thought.

Several groups have reported promising results for video games designed to treat lazy eye by strengthening the signals being directed to patients' weaker eyes. Some study participants who tried early versions of these have given vivid descriptions of suddenly gaining true depth perception for the first time.

If ongoing larger studies confirm the preliminary findings, there are some tantalising prospects. Perhaps children with lazy eyes can be better treated, without the need to endure patching. Maybe adults could be treated, thereby reducing the risk of blindness in later life. Might this mean there are better ways to reverse other acquired cognitive deficits like those caused by stroke and traumatic brain injuries waiting to be discovered?

What did you learn that you didn't expect?
I underwent patching treatment for my lazy eye as a child. As with a large proportion of other patients, the playground mockery I endured was all for nothing as the patch didn't work. During the first interview I did for this piece, I learnt that I don't have true depth perception, which is only possible when the brain integrates the two slightly different signals it receives from two properly functioning eyes.

Learning that most other people see the world differently to how I do was initially quite startling, and speaking to individuals who have gone from seeing in 2D to developing some 3D vision abilities was fascinating. Having the opportunity to try briefly a couple of the experimental video-game-based therapies, and getting some small indications that one of them might have the potential to fix my lazy eye, was intriguing and exciting.

Read Nic's piece on Mosaic, from 9 June 2015.