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Dr. Mustari’s research program is directed at neural mechanisms associated with normal and pathological visual, vestibular, oculomotor, and gaze functions. He is particularly interested in the influences of genes and the environment on early development of these systems. To advance these goals, he has developed effective animal models employing non-human primates (NHP) to study different components of infantile strabismus, nystagmus, and gaze disorders. These are important topics for study because they relate to the preservation of visual function in children. In fact, according to the National Eye Institute, at least 3% of infants have disabilities associated with strabismus and amblyopia. Even larger numbers are afflicted with myopia. Other disorders of early childhood compromise gaze in association with developmental disorders or injuries to the CNS and periphery. All of these disorders are permanent and difficult to treat.
The best opportunities for intervention to protect visual-motor and cognitive functions are early in life during a sensitive phase when plasticity can be used to advantage. Therefore, Mustari’s approach is to use special rearing of NHP to create animal models. He is then able to discover which brain regions are most susceptible to injury early in life. His studies use NHPs for this purpose because they evince a similar developmental sequence to that of human infants. They also possess visual, oculomotor, and gaze systems similar enough to humans to allow investigators to develop and evaluate new treatment options.
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