Cheshire optometrist has background in scientific research



CHESHIRE — What gives humans the ability to see colors and shapes, to read a newspaper or watch a movie?

For centuries, psychologists, philosophers and biologists have been working to understand how and why we are able to process and understand visual data. No matter how well we may see in our youth, our eyes also do change throughout our lives, explains optometrist Dr. Hongping Xu, and all of us will need some kind of corrective lenses eventually, if we want to keep seeing those colors and shapes.

Xu has opened a new optometry practice in Cheshire, located at 28 South Main St., where he utilizes his scientific background to better understand and solve a patient’s vision issues. Xu opened the new office just a few months ago, in what was formerly his own primary care physician’s space.

The optometrist is excited about the possibility of bringing that same standard of patient care to the field of vision.

To celebrate the opening of the new Clarivision office, Xu hosted an open house event on Nov. 9, where he offered free eyeglass adjustments for seniors as a way of introducing his practice to the community he hopes to serve.

Married with two children, Xu has made his home in Cheshire for 13 years. He was born in the city of Taiyuan in Shanxi, a province of northern China, and graduated from Shanxi Medical University, where his first area of specialty was pediatrics.

Xu later earned his Ph.D. in vision physiology from the prestigious Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing, but at the age of 32 he left his home country and came to the United States with the goal of furthering his education.

To that end, Xu worked for 12 years as a post-doctoral researcher in the Yale University School of Medicine’s Department of Neurobiology. In that time, he contributed to advancements in the understanding of where within the brain vision develops. Working with neurobiologist and Yale’s current Vice-Provost for Research Dr. Michael Crair, among other prominent figures in the field, Xu has published approximately 20 research papers, which have been cited 800 times and counting.

“Most of my work had to do with neuroplasticity,” he says, explaining that as development of the visual system occurs, it is highly dependent on both pre-existing systems and activity. “It goes from being not precise, and becomes much more precise,” as the cortex becomes more “refined.”

The key to understanding vision, Xu says, starts pre-birth with the developing brain, pointing to deeply-embedded structures that prepare us to see.

As Crair explained to YaleNews last year, “At eye opening, mammals are capable of pretty sophisticated behavior, but how do the circuits form that allow us to perceive motion and navigate the world? It turns out we are born capable of many of these behaviors, at least in rudimentary form.”

While Xu-authored articles, such as “Spatial Pattern of Spontaneous Retinal Waves Instructs Retinotopic Map Refinement More Than Activity Frequency,” and “A General Principle Governs Vision-Dependent Dendritic Patterning of Retinal Ganglion Cells” may not be light reading for the average person, they are key research papers in helping scientists understand how vision develops and ultimately begins to work.

Another aspect of Xu’s research has to do with understanding myopia, the weakening of the eyes that occurs later in life in most people. “What we do is try to slow down the change of myopia,” he says, through the use of properly-calibrated lenses.

“We can understand vision at the molecular level, but that’s not really the necessary level for analyzing myopia,” says Xu. “For someone who is blind, they might take the chance of having something like (Elon Musk’s) Neuralink (a fiber-optical technology that is attempting to interface the brain with screen translation). For someone who is just near-sighted, we can fit them with a correctly-balanced corrective lens.”

After all the years in the laboratory designing and running experiments, Xu felt a strong desire to return to his earlier training as a physician, examining and diagnosing patients. “I thought it was more important to help people directly. With research, it certainly may help people’s health, but you don’t always know how.”

In 2017, Dr Xu graduated with honors from the New England College of Optometry, and he has been working in the field ever since — from Torrington to Waterbury before settling on his location in his hometown. At the new office, he hopes people will come to see him for all their vision needs. “We do everything except surgery here,” Xu says, including eye examinations, lens fittings, designer frames for glasses, and contact lens packages.

“Once you’re used to seeing clearly, you don’t want to see blurry,” he laughs.



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