Dr. Bill Baldridge
Vision scientist, Dr. Bill Baldridge wants to know how neural circuits in the retina enable us to see - in blazing sunshine and near-darkness alike - and how neurons (nerve cells) in these circuits die in retinal diseases like glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
“We believe that calcium plays a part in these diseases,” says Dr. Bill Baldridge, head of the Department of Medical Neuroscience at Dalhousie Medical School. “We’re trying to find out if calcium levels are elevated in the neurons in diseases of the inner retina. Increased calcium could trigger death, which would than lead to vision loss. Finding a way to regulate the calcium could potentially prevent neurons from dying and preserve vision.”
The idea of preventing neuron death in the retina poses another challenge: “We need ways to detect changes in the retina before people notice they’re losing vision.” Dr. Baldridge says. “Once the neurons are dead, we can’t fix or replace them. But if we knew they were at risk earlier, we could potentially protect them.” Again, calcium comes into the equation, as elevated levels could signal high risk.
Dr. Baldridge is working with another leading Dalhousie vision scientist, Dr. Balwantray Chauhan, to advance new technologies for imaging the retina. A longtime collaborator with Heidelberg Engineering, a leading manufacturer of eye-imaging equipment, Dr. Chauhan is deveioping the next generation of high-definition retinal imaging devices, which will enable clinicians and scientists to trace miniscule changes in the retina as diseases emerge and advance.
“If we can identify early markers of disease, this new technology will give us a way to detect that early warning sign to intervene,” notes Dr. Baldridge, adding that he and his team are exploring a number of different mechanisms, beyond calcium, in their search for a marker of early retinal disease. “With our aging population and high rates of diabetes in the Maritimes, it’s crucial that we find ways to stop retinal diseases from progressing for significant vision loss - the impact on people’s independence and quality of life is so huge.”