Date on Honors Thesis

Spring 5-11-2023


Biological Sciences-Pre-Med



Examining Committee Member

James Ricky Cox, PhD, Advisor

Examining Committee Member

Christopher Trzepacz, PhD, Committee Member

Examining Committee Member

Sterling Wright, PhD, Committee Member


The optic nerve connects the eye to the lateral geniculate nucleus in the brain and is a key component in the human visual pathway. The optic nerve is made up of the axons of approximately 770,000 to 1.2 million specialized neurons called retinal ganglion cells. Like any other organ and tissue in the body, the optic nerve is susceptible to damage or injury. However, unlike some other organs and tissues, once damaged, the optic nerve cannot regenerate. Individuals with damaged optic nerves are said to have Optic Nerve Atrophy and, as of now, there are no cures or treatment options available for those who suffer from this condition. In this thesis, the development of the eye and optic nerve will be discussed as well as the four main causes of Optic Nerve Atrophy: glaucoma, ischemia, congenital disorders, and toxins and tumors. It is important to realize that Optic Nerve Atrophy is always an effect of a disease or disorder and is never a cause. Although these four main causes may negatively impact the optic nerve in different ways, the outcome is always the same: damage to the optic nerve causes irreversible vision loss. Fortunately, there are scientists and researchers who are constantly developing ways to regenerate the optic nerve. There are three main potential treatment options or research areas that appear very promising. These three main areas focus on axon regeneration in the optic nerve by means of stem cell research, immune therapy, and gene editing. This thesis serves as a science-based forecast for the different causes of Optic Nerve Atrophy and the ways in which research can offer means of axon regeneration in the optic nerve. This thesis will provide readers with a sense of hope: hope for tomorrow and hope for a future where Optic Nerve Atrophy is just another curable condition.