September 7, 2017

Retrospective: Nobel Prize and the “Re-birth of Retinal Studies”

Dr. Selwyn Super

Fifty years ago, three well-respected scientists were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine. Their discoveries shared a common purpose but had a difference in views and perspectives. Ragnar Granit, Haldan Keffer Hartline and George Wald were honoured for their discoveries concerning the primary physiological and chemical visual processes in the eye – basically, they were made known for their work in how the eye processes light and colour within the retina.

Ragnar Granit discovered how our vision works with light around us being captured by a large number of light-sensitive cells located in the retinas at the back of our eyes. Granit also said that “before this era vision was chiefly studied by psychophysical methods” and that now, the “electro-physiological approach was the one now destined to pave the way for a deeper understanding of how this, our noblest sense organ, had organized this interpretation of the world of light, form and color”.

George Wald’s work showed how light entering the eye gives rise to signals that are transformed into visual impressions in the brain. Wald tugs on our heartstrings when he says that “from one aspect [vision] might be thought to be a small one: it is but one of many senses, and the eye but one of many organs. Yet what a dominant role vision plays in human life. Most of what we do is guided by it, most of what we know is learned by means of it. Even the blind depend upon it vicariously; the world would be a vastly poorer place for them were it not for those who see”. This emphasizing the role that vision (and lack of it) plays in our daily lives and experiences

Haldan Keffer Hartline kept the ball rolling, showing that when a cell in the retina is stimulated, signals from surrounding cells are hidden making it easier to understand the concept of contrasts. Hartline is credited for merging Granit and Wald’s work, to emphasize how vision works together with our other senses. He points out that “Each one’s work is conditioned by our tastes and training, and hampered by our limitations” continuing that “In the brain, information from the visual apparatus must interact with that of other sense organs. The faculty of vision does not operate alone. One of the compensations of this narrow field of specialty is that so many diverse fields illuminate it; only one’s own limitations restrict the view”.

These discoveries underscore the importance of collaboration and teamwork in advancing our understanding of vision and sensory processes in general.

That Eyecarrot focuses on the precedents set by these Nobel Prize winners is a testament to how serious the company is in bridging the gap between Education, Research and Clinical application, building of a powerful foundation in our mission to transform how vision performance is measured, exercised and enhanced and therefore, to serve the best interests of humankind.

About Dr. Selwyn Super

Dr. Super is a multidisciplinary educator, practitioner, and researcher. He is the Founding Dean of the Department of Optometry at the University of Johannesburg and Emeritus Professor at the University of Johannesburg and the University of Southern California. Dr. Super oversees the science that powers Eyecarrot’s products and research.