Over the years, many researchers have come to describe the retina as, “a window to the brain.” There are many reasons the two are so closely linked. Anatomically, the retina is part of the central nervous system and grows out of the same tissue as the brain in embryonic development. Functionally, the retina sends signals to the brain via the optic nerve and receives neurotransmitter input from the brain.
Studies have shown that retinal changes in neural tissue, blood vessels, and/or overall function are found in a range of brain disorders. In many cases, the changes in the retina are related to neurological or psychiatric disease severity, the stage of disease progression, and cognitive function.
Our hope is that learning about these changes will allow us to provide better screening, diagnosis, and treatment for people with a range of conditions. For example, data indicate that changes in the strength and timing of retinal signals may differentiate people with schizophrenia from those with bipolar disorder. This suggests that further clarification of this issue could provide a diagnostic aid that could be used to increase accuracy of diagnosis in recent onset patients with psychotic and mood symptoms, where the diagnosis is often unclear from symptoms alone.
Retinal imaging findings indicate that degree of thinning of neural layers in schizophrenia is related to extent of disease progression, suggesting that these findings may be useful for identifying people in need of neuroprotective and/or rehabilitative interventions.
In addition, retinal imaging has the potential to quickly and inexpensively screen contact sport athletes for early signs of central nervous changes due to repeated head impacts. Studies of visual remediation are helping us determine the best ways to help people who have lost visual function due to disease or injury.
Currently, the CRAB is focused on studies in several populations, including contact sport athletes and individuals diagnosed with heart failure, diabetes, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. Some of our ongoing studies focus specifically on biomarkers –examining the degree to which retinal data predict cognitive and brain functioning, and even predict changes over time –while other studies focus on treatment for individuals with disorders that affect vision. Read about our current projects
We are located in the Department of Psychiatry, and we collaborate with many teams across the university and study a wide range of psychological and medical conditions. Our current collaborators include faculty from Psychiatry, Neuroscience, Ophthalmology, and Radiology. Read about our personnel