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Groundbreaking Research on Campus


Montana Tech associate professor Michael Masters, Ph.D. is investigating the etiology of juvenile-onset myopia through the analysis of modern human variation in the neurocranium, frontal cortex, and eye in myopes and emmetropes.  Dr. Masters, along with undergraduate students in biology, nursing, occupational safety and health, and computer science departments at Montana Tech have spent the last year working on this research project.


The team’s research has recently garnered international attention from scholars in England, Spain, France, and Ghana. Currently in the data collection phase, the study is supported by a grant from Montana INBRE (IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence) and is being carried out in collaboration with the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the UCLA Medical School, who has contributed much of the sample data and software for the project. 


The principle aim of this research is to investigate the morphological relationship among visual, craniofacial, and cerebral structures, and how long-term evolutionary change in hominins may have resulted in decreased functional efficiency of the eye in modern humans. Multiple image processing and analysis tools are being used to investigate size, shape, and lateral asymmetry among these anatomic traits, and how variation in these features between the sexes and among modern human ancestral populations relates to the frequency and severity of myopia (nearsightedness), within and across these and other social/behavioral groups.
 
In addition to contributing to the field of anthropology in the areas of human variation, hominin evolution, integration, and functional anatomy, this study focusing on low vision associated with astigmatism and myopic refractive error also has the potential to advance ophthalmological research. This is particularly significant given that the etiology of myopia, and specifically the question of what causes the eye to become overly large and axially elongated in myopes, has not yet been answered despite over 100 years of research in this area. 
 
Most studies investigating the growing problem of myopia have focused on the eye as a relatively isolated unit, with few examining its relationship with surrounding extraocular tissues, the orbit, lower face, neurocranium, and brain. The current research being carried out by Masters’ team is noteworthy, in that it offers a holistic approach rooted in evolutionary and ontogenetic principles to investigate the anatomic relationship among hard and soft tissue components of the visual, craniofacial, and cerebral systems.  It is this anthropological approach to understanding how certain evolutionary benefits resulting from morphological change in one feature, may have negative consequences in neighboring traits, which through the integration of theory and methods from anthropology, ophthalmology, neurology, and medical imaging, may help address a vexing question in biomedical research.