Differences in genotype and developmental process are well-known to impact hereditary vision loss and disease. However the impact of such differences on the outcomes of cell-based reparative therapies is unknown. Health disparities (HD) in burden of vision loss and impairment as a consequence of differences in therapeutic outcomes are rising rapidly in the US and world-wide. Reduction of US health disparities is a high priority area for the NIH that requires a multi-pronged approach, including focused training, innovation, and community outreach.


Vision loss is a unique community-based challenge because multiple HD makes it, both, the primary fear of working Americans, and, sadly, the largest cause of disability. Our early work 1 created quantitative course materials that introduce HD research and impact to engineering undergraduates using the physics of light in relation to the retina. Materials review elementary physics, summarize current technology and engineering applications in the eye and incorporate HD statistical analyses to highlight disparate burden of vision loss across US regions, age and ethnic groups. The project educational and outreach contributions underline broader scientific literacy and importance of scientific standards in data analysis. Recent projects have incorporated HD into community-based capstone design challenges, where student teams design and prototype systems that interface HD with vision more broadly, such as Virtual Reality for neuropathic pain. 2 In addition, we create opportunities to include impacts of HD into undergraduate research projects paired with summer High School STEM trainees. Contributions of these activities have advanced student design teams to Master’s in Translational Medicine programs, local startups and technology-transfer groups at research hospitals. Further, summer HD projects develop undergraduates into teachers and mentors able to train HS students in hands-on engineering skills, and evaluate engineering projects with a community-based focus. 3

Below is a 25-min Keynote talk presented by Dr. Vazquez at the 2020 Rutgers RISE-REU Summer Symposium:

Current and Forthcoming Projects:

Our activities develop several benchtop-based HD modules in the context of the visual system, e.g. fundus measurement for predictive retinal disease in animal models. These activities will enrich engineering lab skills and knowledge of scientific standards needed for interdisciplinary STEM communities 4. In addition, contributions will directly interface design innovation with translation to clinical and community health tools. This project is supported via sub-awards from NIH U54 and NSF STC.

Selected References (Click for Pubmed Access):

1.Vazquez M., ‘Engaging Biomedical Engineering in Health Disparities Challenges,’ J. Community Med Health Educ 2018, 8: 595.  

2.Vazquez M.; Marte O.; Barba J.; Hubbard K.; 'An approach to integrating health disparities within undergraduate biomedical engineering education,' Ann Biomed. Eng. 2017 Nov;45(11):2703-2715.  

3. Pena J.; Vazquez, M., 'Reducing health disparities in adult vision loss via interfaces with emerging technology,' Nature Eye 2019, Apr;33(4):532-533

4. Pena J and Vazquez M. 'Reducing Health Disparities in Adult Vision Loss', BMES Northeast Bioengineering Keynote Opening Symposium 2019 


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