The eye is the most accessible part of the brain and central nervous system. The study of the eye’s neural tissues – including the optic nerve and retina – as well as how the eye connects to the brain for visual perception – fall within an interdisciplinary field called neuroscience.
Neuroscience is devoted to the scientific study of the nervous system. Such studies may include the structure, function, development, genetics, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, and pathology of the nervous system. Traditionally, neuroscience has been seen as a branch of biological sciences. However, recently there has been a convergence of interest from many allied disciplines, including neuropsychology, computer science, statistics, physics, and medicine. The scope of neuroscience has now broadened to include any systematic scientific experimental and theoretical investigation of the central and peripheral nervous system of biological organisms.
The field of neuroscience covers the area of neurodegenerative disease, a condition in which cells of the eye, brain and spinal cord are lost. The eye, brain, and spinal cord are composed of neurons that have different functions such as controlling movements, processing sensory information, and making decisions. Aside from a small number of neural stem cells that are created daily, cells of the eye, brain and spinal cord are not readily regenerated en masse, so excessive damage can be devastating. Neurodegenerative diseases result from deterioration of neurons which, over time, will lead to neurodegeneration.
Internationally there has been an emphasis on neuroscience research that culminated in the decade of the brain in the United States in the 1990s. This emphasis continues unabated to this day. Neuroscience is a field that holds promise for many exciting advances in medicine and ophthalmology in the next decade.
Neuroscience is a strategic initiative at the University of Miami overall. The Neuroscience Graduate Program is the largest of the University of Miami’s PhD programs, providing a major source of trainees for our labs. The University of Miami is also home to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, the largest research center for the study of spinal cord injury in the United States. The spinal cord and optic nerve are anatomically very similar, and neuronal cell death and axon regeneration in these tissues share similar mechanisms. Thus. studies in one system inform the other and collaborative investigations among scientists at the two centers is creating substantial synergism. Similarly, the University of Miami’s Vascular Biology Institute, the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Diabetes Research Institute provides for synergistic collaborative opportunities for study of vascular mechanisms that play a part in retinal diseases, including macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and retinal cancer.