The retina is commonly thought of as a device that takes a “snapshot” of the visual world, processes them, and transmits the information to dozens of areas of the brain. Researchers at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine are tapping the latest technology and breakthrough in genetics to illuminate how the retina works with the brain. They hope to find novel treatments for many diseases that lead to blindness, including macular degeneration and diabetic neuropathy, by replacing or repairing parts of damaged cells.

50 types of ganglion cells

At the heart of much of this area’s research are 50 types of retinal ganglion cells, neurons that are located near the inner surface of the retina. Greg Schwartz, Ph.D., assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Physiology, is investigating 50 types of ganglion cells.

The teams worked with mouse retinas because they continue to function for many hours outside of the body, or in this case, mice. Then, Schwartz takes the retina to the movies. He records the spikes and relates them to the video. And, he can identify the cell’s function, like motion-sensitivity, or response edges or colors.

Schwartz hopes to identify each retinal ganglion cell’s function, genetic signature, and its connection to targets in the brain. And, after years of research, he estimates that he and other investigators are about 90 percent there. He recently discovered one cell that is likely involved in eye growth, which could ultimately lead to new ways of preventing and treating myopia (nearsightedness).

See the full article to learn about other retinal research.