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‘Connecting Optometry with Neuroscience’

Mind-Eye Tagline Conveys Excitement About New, Future Discoveries

“Science is pushing the boundaries of our understanding of the retina and its functional relationships with other important structures in the brain.”

That was a comment I made at the recent 19th Annual Congress of the Society for Brain Mapping & Therapeutics (SBMT) in Los Angeles. And nowhere is this advancement in retinal research becoming more obvious than within the rapidly developing fields of nanoscience and nanotechnology, which were particularly “hot” topics of discussion at the SBMT meetings. Nanoscience is the study and applications of matter at the most minute, atomic level – the nanometer. The nanometer is a unit of measure equivalent to one-billionth of a meter.

Authors of a review article in a July 2021 issue of Nanomaterials call nanoscience and nanotechnology “revolutionary” and state nanoscience should prove useful in helping “find new hybrid avenues targeted at improving daily life. Pharmaceuticals, regenerative medicine, and stem cell research are among the prominent segments of biological sciences that will be improved by nanostructure innovations.”

The Mind-Eye Institute is currently at the forefront of investigating how nanoscience can transform the practice of optometry. Our organization is launching a new tagline, Connecting Optometry with Neuroscience. The tagline underscores our belief that neuroscience, the study of the brain, coupled with ongoing retinal discoveries, will enhance our ability to modulate – change – optic nerve signals, and thus brain activity, in ways that may help in the care of patients with neurological, physiological, and possibly some psychiatric disorders. These are psychiatric disorders specifically resulting from an imbalance in neurotransmitters, which might be more stabilized if the optic nerves are sending balanced signals into the brain.

One of the most recent of those retinal discoveries — the existence of a hitherto unknown neuron, or nerve cell, in the retina – was published in an October edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. There, scientists report naming the new neuron the Campana cell. They suggest their discovery may represent a whole new class of retinal neurons. The Campana cell reportedly conveys visual signals from the light-sensitive cone and rod photoreceptors to ganglion cells in the retina, but the precise nature of its work and role in visual processing remains unknown, authors state. Until nanoscopes (which magnify targets more than microscopes) were invented, Campana cells were too tiny to view.

Earlier research, published in a July 2021 issue of the journal PLOS One, indicates retinal cells do more than simply “carry visual signals from the eye to the brain…The principal neurons of the retina…participate in a recurrent circuit much as those in other brain areas,” study authors state. These cells do not serve as “mere collectors of retinal signals but are actively involved in visual computations.” Indeed, the feedback signaling found “at the level of retinal output” may be an important mechanism in enabling the brain to predict, adapt to unexpected sensory inputs, and adjust a person’s behavior accordingly, the scientists say.

At the Mind-Eye Institute, we have long been using the principles of advanced optometric science to stimulate the retina in order to modify the dynamic relationship between the mind’s visual inputs and the body’s internal responses. We achieve this through highly individualized, therapeutic eyeglasses, filters, and other optometric tools that can vary the amount, intensity and angle of light passing through the retina into the optic nerve.

The retina is composed of brain tissue and functions as part of the central nervous system. Environmental signals in the form of light enter the retina and are converted into electrical signals. Those signals propagate through neurons and interact with critical brain structures. Retinal signals affect not just the visual cortex for eyesight, but other, significant regions of the brain as well, such as the cerebellum, midbrain, thalamus, hypothalamus, and brainstem. Retinal stimulation using variances in light can promote positive (or negative) changes in a person’s basic physical, physiological, and even psychological systems involved in circuitry of motor control, posture, emotion, and thinking.

Indeed, one branch of nanoscience is nanophotonics, which involves “the study of the behavior of light on the nanometer scale,” namely, “the interaction of light with particles or substances at deeply subwavelength scales,” according to scientists reporting in the International Journal of Research in Engineering and Applied Sciences. Authors of an article in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Ophthalmology indicate “true nanotechnology can be developed for the express purpose of affecting critical outcomes in patient-centered activities, [including]…increased therapeutic advantage.” They add: “Nanotechnology has the profound potential for development of platform technologies that may make it possible to monitor and, thus, treat ocular diseases, even at the molecular level.”

I am currently working on a chapter titled Retinal Neuromodulation as an Influence on Brain Function by Applying Nanoneuroscience Discoveries for use in a textbook of Nanoneuroscience. The chapter discusses how current knowledge can be expanded to include the effects of nanoparticles on non-image forming pathways, in addition to eyesight (image-forming) pathways.

The use of brain glasses changes how light passes through the retina, and related, advanced optometric techniques oftentimes bring relief and comfort to patients suffering from the debilitating symptoms of traumatic brain injury, stroke, and other neurological disorders. Selective retinal stimulation also can help build undeveloped visual processing skills in people who have been labeled “on the spectrum,” such as autism or attention deficit disorder (with or without hyperactivity — ADD or ADHD).

Scientists often refer to the retina as a “window to the brain.” That is because retinal health and function tells us much about a person’s overall health. Eye care practitioners may someday become the professionals whom patients seek first for diagnosis of a variety of disorders, including early onset Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, cardiovascular issues, and diabetes. In fact, it would make sense that retinal neuromodulation of brain activity through non-invasive stimulation of the eye — alone or in combination with other therapies — will prove clinically effective in addressing a host of diseases.

Because of the rapidity at which nanoscience and retinal science are developing, the Mind-Eye Institute is in the process of expanding its team of optometrists who are specially prepared and certified in the advanced optometric techniques that Mind-Eye offers. To this end, we are planning expansion to allow for new clinical space at our Northbrook, Illinois offices and are developing multi-levels of professional training in such areas as visual processing, retinal neuromodulation, and observance/assessment of how a patient’s posture can shift in response to changes in lenses.

Everything nano is so exciting in this 21st century. The Mind-Eye Institute is growing further to pioneer the advancements this new science holds for our patient care. Watch us Wednesday, May 4, at 9 p.m. during Chicago’s Fox News broadcast, as we continue our mission of leaving 20/20 in the 20th century!

Deborah Zelinsky, O.D.

Founder, Executive Director of Research

The Mind-Eye Institute