The promise of sight for the blind and mobility for the crippled is not a dream of faith. It is one of the ambitious goals of research into the workings of the brain. Neural-prosthetic devices capable of making the crippled walk and the blind see are not yet on the drawing board, but the research conducted in Visual-Motor Neuroscience may one day help with the blueprints.
The key to understanding how our brains work and what goes wrong when our senses fail us has been right before - and behind - our eyes all along. Over half of our cerebral cortex (the seat of higher brain functions) is devoted to vision. Scientists postulate that the neural processes used to transform visual information into actions (such as movement) are central to brain function. Understand them and you unlock the mysteries of the brain while opening a diagnostic window onto the enigma that is neurological disease.
The implications of studying eye-hand coordination are not lost on Douglas Crawford. His discoveries of the rules that govern 3-D rotations of the eye, head and arm have placed him and his research team at the forefront of neurophysiological science. Their findings have been recognized internationally as major contributions to our understanding of motor control.
By using sophisticated scanning technologies such as MRI, they have followed visual signals as they pass from the eye through to the visual center of the brain. They have watched as neurons fired and limbs responded, and have identified the neural mechanisms responsible for motor commands based on visual cues. Still, their research is only in its early stages.
The continuing research at York University's Centre for Vision Research will expand knowledge of hand-eye coordination, perception, and motor control. Shared among many research disciplines, this knowledge will add several more crucial pieces to the puzzle which they are all trying to put together - an accurate picture of how the brain works.