I received my undergraduate degree from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, India in 1992 majoring in Electronics Engineering. I then moved to the United States for graduate studies and completed a M.S and Ph.D. degree in 1998 in Biomedical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. My work, carried out under the mentorship of Dr. John Leigh, primarily examined the interactions between visual-oculomotor and vestibular systems. I did post-doctoral work at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University with Dr. Michael Mustari from 1999 to 2002. During this time I learnt the technique of single cell extracellular recording in the awake-behaving monkey and also became interested in examining visual-oculomotor mechanisms in the strabismic primate. I was appointed to the faculty at Emory University in 2002 and received an independent investigator award from the National Institutes of Health in 2004 to study neural circuits mediating binocular coordination of eye movements in the strabismic monkey. I have since maintained continued NIH funding. I joined the faculty of the College of Optometry, University of Houston in 2009. The goal of research in my laboratory is to continue to uncover the disruption of neural processing in various brain areas in the strabismic monkeys. A better understanding of neural mechanisms that are affected in the different forms of strabismus will help develop rationally based therapy.
The focus of research in my laboratory is to investigate disruption of eye movement control in animal models for strabismus (ocular misalignment). Strabismus is a common visual developmental disorder affecting 2?5% of all human infants. Though the exact etiology of strabismus is still unknown, it is clear that disruption of binocular visual information in infancy plays a critical role in development of strabismus. Many seminal behavioral, anatomical and physiological studies have revealed various aspects of visual sensory deficits that are associated with the strabismic condition. By the same token, we know relatively little about disruptions in neural oculomotor (eye movement) circuits, though these structures must also be involved in maintaining the steady-state strabismus. The possible involvement of such structures ranges from altered eye muscle lengths to neural mechanisms that alter eye muscle tone or contractility. Our research is therefore directed towards identifying and understanding the roles of specific areas in the brain that may be involved in producing oculomotor properties describing the strabismus state. Our strategy is to utilize a basic science approach with studies in animal models, incorporating concepts, tools and techniques developed via basic science studies of the oculomotor system. To this end, we use a multi-pronged strategy involving behavioral studies of eye alignment, eye movements and ocular accommodation, MRI studies evaluating extraocular muscle (EOM) structure and single cell recording studies of information processing in neural oculomotor circuits.
Dr. Della Santina received his M.S in medicinal chemistry, Pharm.D. in pharmacy and Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Pisa. He moved to the United States as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington, Seattle under the supervision of Dr. Rachel Wong. Following his postdoctoral training, he was a research faculty at the University of Pisa, Italy and at the University of California, San Francisco before joining the faculty at the College of Optometry, University of Houston in 2021.
His research focuses on investigating the functional, circuit and synaptic rearrangements of the retina following to neurodegenerative diseases, to identify novel cellular targets for early detection and treatment. His research laboratory develops novel computational tools for large-scale recording of neurons and identification of neural circuits, as well as computer vision approaches based on deep learning for the automatic detection of ocular diseases in clinical and smartphone photographs.
Neural circuit and synaptic remodeling in retinal development and degeneration. Retinal physiology via multielectrode array (MEA) and electroretinogram (ERG) recording High-performance computing, machine learning and deep learning applied to image analysis of clinical photographs and microscopy images.