The Eyes are a Window to the Brain


Julie Joyce

Principal Investigator

Dr. Chantel Debert


University of Calgary

Grant Type



Traumatic Brain Injury

About the researcher

Julie Joyce

Medical Student at the University of Calgary

The impact

Traumatic brain injuries are unexpected and can radically change a person’s life. Many people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury have difficulty with vision and balance. Often the root of these problems is a broken connection between the inner ear, the eyes and the brain, also known as the ‘vestibular system’. Everyday exciting new tools are being developed to test brain function following traumatic brain injury. One of these cool new tools is eye-tracking goggles. You may have heard the saying that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Well, they can definitely be a window to the brain. Eye-tracking goggles look for tiny characteristic eye movements that tell researchers and clinicians if the ear-eye-brain vestibular connection is broken.

The study

This project brought together researchers from France, Israel and Canada to evaluate the use of new eye-tracking tools in kids and adults who had suffered a traumatic brain injury. Without sufficient tools to detect vestibular problems, clinicians struggle to focus their rehabilitation interventions on addressing specific patient needs. Branch Out has funded this study to grow the traumatic brain injury toolkit to help clinicians better detect vestibular problems and help patients get back to their lives.

What's next?

For the project: First step detection, second step intervention. The important next step in vestibular research for traumatic brain injury is to create rehabilitation interventions to help the brain heal the ear-eye-brain connection. Our study team is currently working on new rehabilitation strategies. Some of these strategies include having the eyes practice tracking a moving target. You can think of the interventions as physiotherapy for your eyes! Ultimately the aim is to work with hospitals and rehabilitation centers to integrate vestibular rehabilitation strategies into standard clinical care.

For Julie: In 2019, Julie began her Master’s degree in Medical Sciences with a specialization in Medical Imaging at the University of Calgary. She continued to study concussions for her Master’s research, but with a refined perspective on aerobic exercise interventions and using advanced neuroimaging technology to better understand why exercise can accelerate recovery. After her graduate studies, Julie hopes to go to medical school to become a clinician-scientist and translate scientific findings into clinical impact.

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Joyce JM, Mercier LJ, La PL, Bell T, Batycky JM, Debert CT, Harris AD. Glutamate, GABA and glutathione in adults with persistent post-concussive symptoms, 36: 1013152. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2022.103152

Joyce JM, Debert CT, Chevignard M, Sorek G, Katz-Leurer M, Gagnon I, Schneider KJ. Balance impairment in patients with moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury: Which measures are appropriate for assessment? (2022). Frontiers in Neurology, 13: 906697. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2022.906697

Joyce JM*, La PL*, Walker R, Harris AD. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy of traumatic brain injury and subconcussive hits: A systematic review and meta-analysis. (2022). Journal of Neurotrauma, 39:1455-1476. doi: 10.1089/neu.2022.0125

Mercier LJ, Kowalski K, Fung TS, Joyce JM, Yeates KO, Debert CT. Characterizing physical activity and sedentary behavior in adults with persistent post-concussive symptoms following mild traumatic brain injury. (2021). Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 102(10): 1918-1925. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2021.05.002

Joyce JM, Kibreab M, Cheetham J, Kathol I, Sarna J, Martino D, Monchi O, Debert CT. The impact of traumatic brain injury on motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. (2020). International Review of Psychiatry, 31(1): 46-60. doi: 0.1080/09540261.2019.1656177