April 10, 2024

Solar Eclipse Safely, from a Vision Scientist.

 Now we are post-eclipse. If you or anyone you know is noticing a new difficulty reading with their central vision today (Wednesday, two days after the eclipse), and they spent some time watching the solar eclipse without solar safety glasses, then it's time to visit an optometrist or ophthalmologist for a retinal exam. 

You can learn about how and why the light from the Sun can burn or damage the very important photoreceptor cells in your retina here where I was interviewed by Rachelle Graham of CBS News Detroit. 

What does a Sun burned retina look like? 

The picture below is from an article you can read from The Foundation, American Society of Retinal Specialists on eclipse damage to retinas.

As you can see (left) , the top panel is a view of the patient's retina as observed directly from looking into the front of the eye. The lower panel is a an OCT image that shows the layers of the neural retina in cross section. OCT stands for Optical Coherence Tomography, and it is a way to use back-scattered light to see the layers of the retina. Obviously a very useful imaging system for your eye doctor. The green line on the top panel shows the location of the OCT scan. 

I have added the red arrow, pointing to the OCT image cross-section at the fovea from this patient with a fovea burn. This area is the part of the retina that you are reading this with now, your central, high-detailed, vision. That white stalk of burn damage should not be there. A normal undamaged human fovea does not have that burn feature, as seen in this normal retinal OCT scan below.

 OCT image of a normal fovea from "The ABCs of OCT" in the Review of Optometry.

So I hope that you were able to watch the Solar Eclipse of April 8th 2024 in a safe manner. My best advice for your vision health at any time is get an eye check-up at least every two years when younger and over 30 years of age it is best to get an eye exam once per year. If you have diabetes or heart disease then you want an eye exam every year regardless of your age. The reality is that most damage to your retina occurs without any sensation or pain, so many conditions affecting your retinas will be detected by your eye exam and catching retinal conditions early is important for possible treatment. Once photoreceptor cells have died, there is nothing currently that modern medicine can do to fix that.

Ken Mitton

March 26, 2024

How to Watch the Solar Eclipse Safely, from a Vision Scientist.

I wrote about this during the last eclipse in 2017, now its time to update for this April 2024. How can you watch the solar eclipse without harming your eyes? What is so scary about a solar eclipse? Are there some special rays of light that only occur during the eclipse that make the Sun dangerous to our retinas? Actually, the answer to the last question is, no. So why is it dangerous to look at the eclipse with the naked eye? Read on for the answers.

February 20, 2024

The Science Rant's Most Read Post of the last 12 months is from 2018: Hockey Pucks and Locks for Classroom Doors


By far, the most-read post in The Science Rant over the last several months into 2024, and over the entire existence of this blog, continues to be from 2018:

"Run, Hide, Fight: Is Your Kid's University Campus Unprepared for a Campus Shooter?"

This was a post I wrote during the moment when my university, Oakland University, decided to address the installation of door locks that could be activated from inside the classroom by professors and students during an active shooter situation. This post continues to be the most read over the last year and the last few months and I think interest renews every time we have another shooting on an American campus. 

While there are no guarantees for absolute safety when a killer has a gun, the inability to lock doors was sadly brought to the public's attention last year at Michigan State University. At that moment anyone who might have thought that students and faculty at Oakland University lobbying publically for interior classroom door locks was excessive learned that OU made a wise decision in 2018. The administration listened to its community and they made one essential step for trying to protect our community. 

The sad situation is that while most grade schools and high schools in this country have interior lockable classroom doors and active shooter practice drills for all staff and students, that is not the case when your children arrive at most colleges. 

So ask your college-attending kids this week if the doors of all their classrooms are lockable from the inside.

You can check out the popular 2018 post here and read about the famous Hockey Puck campaign of 2018: Run Hide Fight

February 16, 2024

COVID-19 Vaccine has performed well against recent variants so far this season.

 The CDC reports that the current updated COVID-19 vaccine has performed well against strains of the virus so far this Fall and Winter (2023/2024). That includes the JN.1 variant.

CDC Vaccine Performance Update

August 29, 2023

Show this to your Parents: Scientific Truth about WHY Your TUITION is so Expensive?

I may be a university professor now, but I was an undergraduate student in college in the 1980s. The education cost in 1980 was about $4,500 per student. Most States provided about 70% of that to the university and the remainder, called tuition, was the student's share of the cost. It was about $1,200 a year then, which paid for an entire year (September to April) of a full-time student course load. Not $1,200 per course, $1,200 total. To put that in perspective, we could get a full-time summer job, make $500 per month, and save our next year's tuition after 2-1/2 months of work. Then the rest of the Summer was money we could use for other things. So how do we get to $15,000 plus per year in 2023? Its is very simple when you compare the education cost and the tuition between the 80's and now. 

February 22, 2023

Rare Disease Day 2023 - the last day of February each year.

It has been 40 years since the Orphan Drug Act was passed by the United States Congress to incentivize the development of treatments for "orphan", meaning rare, diseases. In 2022 Congress also passed the Rare Diseases Act to amend the Public Health Service to form an Office for Rare Diseases within the National Institutes of Health. One of the research areas within my laboratory targets orphan inherited pediatric retinal diseases. Diseases rarer than Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) which is itself considered rare. These conditions include FEVR (Familial Exudative Vitreo-Retinopathy), Norrie Disease, Persistent Fetal Vascular Syndrom, and Retinoschisis. The first three conditions cause incomplete development of the blood supply for the neural retina within our eyes, causing blindness. The latter condition results in a very delicate neural retina where the layers of the retina can separate and become filled with liquid. This condition also causes blindness. All of these orphan diseases affect infants and children of all ages. Our lab at Oakland University, in the Eye Research Institute, carries out research DNA-sequencing for Families with these conditions who present at Associated Retinal Consultants here in Michigan. Families are from all over the country and also outside of the United States. Funding is difficult to find for rare disease research, but we seek support from a few private foundations so that no Family pays for the research DNA sequencing that we do. OU science students and OUWB medical students take part and learn about applied human genetics.

In North America, the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), is a partner with several similar regional organizations to facilitate awareness and support for rare diseases around the globe. While rare diseases may have fewer affected persons, there are many different rare diseases and together they impact over 300 million people around the world. Do you have a rare disease or know someone with a rare disease? Seeking information? Please visit the NORD website. Please also share this blog post to increase awareness. February 28th is Rare Disease Day in 2023. 


Ken Mitton

PS Thanks to the Carls Foundation and Pediatric Retinal Research Foundation of Michigan for making our lab's research DNA-sequencing for Families possible in 2023.