Many people have no clue that they’re slowly going blind, says Peter Bex, a vision sci­en­tist and newly appointed psy­chology pro­fessor in North­eastern University’s Col­lege of Sci­ence.

A lot of people with mea­sur­able vision impair­ment are unaware of their afflic­tion because their brain fills in the missing pieces,” Bex explains, noting that one-​​third of the brain is devoted to visual pro­cessing. “Vision loss in one eye,” he adds, “is com­pen­sated for by the use of the other eye.”

Over the past 20 years, Bex has studied thou­sands of sub­jects in the clin­ical set­ting, many of whom have suf­fered from blinding eye dis­eases including glau­coma, ambly­opia, and age-​​related mac­ular dis­ease. His clin­ical research employs behav­ioral and com­pu­ta­tional tech­niques to study the patho­log­ical processes behind these blinding eye dis­eases. His focus is on early detec­tion, diag­nosis, and mon­i­toring of visual impair­ment, and his research goal, he says, is to max­i­mize people’s remaining vision.

I want to con­tribute some­thing useful to human health and well-​​being,” Bex says. “When you study these dis­eases you realize your ability to advance new ther­a­pies is depen­dent on your ability to assess and modify performance.”

His work with glau­coma patients is a prime example of his research strategy. Glau­coma, a group of dis­eases that damage the eye’s optic nerve, afflicts some 80 mil­lion people, making it the second leading cause of blind­ness in the devel­oped world. But cat­a­strophic vision loss can often be averted if the con­di­tion is detected early. To that end, Bex has devel­oped screening tests based on visual sen­si­tivity to moving images that can detect early signs of glau­coma quicker than existing techniques.

He’s also making it easier for average people to gauge the true quality of their eye­sight, by improving the algo­rithms used for eye test mobile apps. Many people unwit­tingly cheat on these games, Bex says, making it impos­sible for players to know whether their eye­sight is dete­ri­o­rating. “If a player’s vision is get­ting worse, he might use a dif­ferent part of his retina,” he explains. “Unless you improve the algo­rithms, the player would have no idea if his eye­sight was bad.”

His interest in vision sci­ence dates back to the late 1980s, when the inner work­ings of the brain started to pique his interest. Since then, he says, “I’ve been fas­ci­nated by how the brain works” and notes that “the eye is a unique organ that can be studied in ways that other sen­sory organs can not.”

Bex comes to North­eastern from Har­vard Med­ical School, where he spent the past eight years as a pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Oph­thal­mology. At the same time, he served as a sci­en­tist at the Schepens Eye Research Insti­tute, which is affil­i­ated with Har­vard and the Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­eral Hos­pital. He earned his doc­torate in vision sci­ence from Cardiff Uni­ver­sity in Wales in 1994 and then com­pleted two post-​​doctoral research fellowships—the first at McGill Uni­ver­sity, the second at the Uni­ver­sity of Rochester. Fol­lowing his stint in New York, Bex moved back to Eng­land in 1998 and stayed there until 2007, serving as a senior lec­turer in the Depart­ment of Psy­chology at the Uni­ver­sity of Essex and at the Insti­tute of Oph­thal­mology at Uni­ver­sity Col­lege in London.

Bex chose North­eastern for its keen focus on research that solves global chal­lenges in health, one of the university’s three pro­gram­matic pil­lars. “North­eastern empha­sizes health­care and the appli­ca­tions of health­care,” he says, noting that “use-​​inspired research is a key part of my research pro­gram.” He is par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in col­lab­o­rating with stu­dent researchers in his lab in addi­tion to his new col­leagues in the psy­chology depart­ment and the game design pro­gram. “I see oppor­tu­ni­ties in places I had not antic­i­pated,” Bex says.