Eye Spy a Breakthrough in Neuroscience at the University of Akron

Photo courtesy of Dr. Jordan Renna


When most people think about science and research coming from The University of Akron, they tend to think about polymers or plastics. We are the once “rubber capital of the world” and still labeled the city of invention, but that is not all that The University of Akron is limited to.

Recently, from our department of biology, Dr. Jordan Renna has made a breakthrough discovery in neuroscience. He had originally started working on this project with Dr. Maureen Stabio, the lead author, and several other researchers when he was at Brown University’s Berson Lab. It was with their research and gathered data that, while at the University of Akron,  Dr. Renna was able to discover a new relationship with a melanopsin ganglion receptor, known as the M5 cell, that was never before understood. Yet, to understand its importance, one must understand what these are. Most people have heard of the concept of rods and cones in the eye. These photo receptors are what most people are familiar with when learning basic biology in high school, but there is actually a third photo receptor, the melanopsin ganglion cells. Unlike the rods and cones which drive image forming pathways, like color, contrast, motion, and depth, the things that allow us to navigate our environment, these melanopsin ganglion cells serve a different function. These neurons process information that regulate when our pupils react to light or when we get tired or wake up, affecting our circadian rhythm. Dr. Renna and his team had been specifically studying the melanopsin ganglion receptor known as M5.

The discovery and breakthrough found while doing his research was that the M5 cell does not only move information to the brain concerning regulation, like how our eyes react to a bright light or no light, but it also shares information about imaging such as color and contrast. The big deal about this to the scientific community is that until now, we have never found a cell in the eye that did both, and with this knowledge, it allows us to study this specific M5 cell more with a greater understanding. Dr. Renna explained that, “…one of aspects about melanopsin ganglion cells that makes them extremely interesting is they seem to be able to survive different ocular diseases like glaucoma.” This provides an opportunity and interest to further study ocular tissues, and attempt to discover if similar cells exist in primates or humans.

His lab at The University of Akron is studying how neurocircuits are formed, and how they wire up between rods, cones, and the ganglion cells, and how these connections are formed early on. His focus is the mechanisms that connect them in development, and better understanding the complexities of these connections. This current research is how to form new connections and perhaps repair them.

The importance of these breakthroughs have yet to show their true gravity, but in many cases in science, each discovery truly is the door to a new series of breakthroughs. A virtual maze of unknowns in the human body is always unwinding with the hard work and dedication of researchers and scientists. Some may just be for information giving us clarity on why things happen, others could be the catalyst to the secret of fighting a disease or combating them later. The point is, these amazing breakthroughs in science do not happen somewhere in a mysterious lab like in a SciFi movie. They happen right in our backyard with people we pass regularly as they work to better our understanding of the world around us.

If this interests you, make sure to take Dr. Renna’s classes. In the fall, there is Neuroscience and Health and Disease, where you can learn how neurons work, how neurological diseases affect the mind, and even how to read MRI images; in the spring, you can take his Research Techniques of Neuroscience course.

Access to Legal Aid in Akron

When most people think of nonprofit organizations they picture soup kitchens, clothing donations, medical care, and other fundamental necessities of life. Generally one does not think about other services or even providing access to them. The nonprofit organization Community Legal Aid Services, Inc. is an organization out of the Akron area providing legal counsel and assistance to low income individuals that need it the most. It serves a need most people are unaware even exists in our community by supporting people through something one would think is already covered by our legal system.

The general misconception with the law is the right to an attorney. Our constitution does provide you the right to an attorney in the event you are subject to a criminal case; yet many of the cases in our legal system are civil in nature. What does this mean though? In our legal system, we have divided the nature of cases between criminal and civil. Criminal cases are generally considered a crime against the state, or general society as a whole brought to court by the state, whereas in civil cases it is a crime against a person or institution that is brought by said party. In regards to civil cases, one does not have the constitutional right to an attorney, and though many people can afford legal aid, to many this is a necessity that is financially out of reach. Think of it as this, something has happened that either damaged you or you are being accused of damage, and instead of having a lawyer, you are forced to attempt to represent yourself against a trained one. It’s the legal equivalent of a pickup basketball league stepping onto the court with a professional team. Not only does one’s chances look grim, but they are almost definitively going to either not have their proper compensations, or be forced to attempt to pay back a potentially unfair damage accusation.

That is where organizations like Community Legal Aid come into play. People who don’t have the money to afford legal representation in their time of need can turn to community services like this for assistance, whether for issues like their disabilities being taken away, wrongful home evictions, predatory loans, domestic abuse, or even back pay or wrongdoings at the workplace. This makes a major impact in our community as their organization alone has contributed by closing 5,151 cases in 2016, accounting for an approximate 16.26 million dollars for their clients. They have served many needs including 660 veterans cases, 1,230 senior cases, 877 domestic violence victim cases, and 1,707 disabled persons cases. They have also defended others in consumer protection, health and education as well as housing needs, record theft, and tax. The beneficial impact to society is massive by having institutions like this available and able to provide such services to our community. It not only helps benefit those in need, but on normal circumstances these people may not have been able to get proper representation. To imagine in a year nearly 16 million dollars of damages may have gone unpaid or simple pushed under the rug is staggering, but it does make one think about the reality and society we live in. Community Legal Aid received 15,928 requests for assistance in 2016 alone, and unfortunately not all of those are able to be met. Institutions like this can only handle so much in a year, and there is only so much funding to support this.

Institutions like this are funded through a mix of donations, other organizations contributions, the Legal Services Corporation, 501 non-profit corporation established by Congress. With the upcoming changes in the federal budget however, organizations like this may lose a substantial amount of funding, so donations of both time and assistance may be key to maintaining such unseen but important entities of society. Akron University law students may seek internship here, as well as can donate their time and assistance of such a vital service to the community, giving them both a grand experience with the legal system, as well as the satisfaction in knowing what they’re contributing their efforts to is a benevolent use of their skills for the greater of their community.

After interviewing the Executive Director Steven McGarrity, and hearing his words reflecting the best part of his job is knowing he is able to truly help people makes me hope that this organization thrives and continues to positively impact our community. Though everyone has the right to legal aid, there are many in our community that do not have access to it financially, and organizations like Community Legal Aid help amend this social injustice and protect people’s civil legal needs.


Listen to the interview by following the link below:


You can donate to their organization by following the link below: