Welcome New Faculty

Dr. Alexander Smith


Q What drew you to UCSF and to vision research?

A UCSF is a world-renowned institution that fosters collaboration with leading researchers focusing on basic science and clinical projects that have the potential to benefit human health. Our work on the membrane organization of a protein led us to investigate how the optic nerve is damaged in neuromyelitis optica.


Q What are the goals for your research on cerebrospinal fluid and the eye?

A My primary goal is to understand novel treatment methods, such as injecting drugs directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, for optic neuritis and other ophthalmic diseases. I also am really excited to determine if a buildup of toxic proteins from the cerebrospinal fluid in the visual pathway contributes to visual disturbances or vision loss. These are often associated with neurodegenerative diseases. Finally, we want to learn if the retina is a useful site for diagnosis in neurodegenerative diseases. That is, to what extent is the eye a window to the brain?


Q What are some of your findings?

A Briefly increasing the pressure in the brain greatly increases the amount of cerebrospinal fluid tracers taken up by the optic nerve. We believe this finding has important implications for delivering therapeutics to the optic nerve and for understanding ophthalmic diseases where brain pressure is chronically elevated. It’s possible that this finding could lead to better treatments for autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases affecting the eye.


Q What has been a highlight in your career to date?

A Seeing experimental therapeutic treatments that we have tested in the lab be translated into treatments for patients in need has been extremely gratifying.


Q How do you like to spend your free time?

A I really enjoy exploring the outdoors: hiking, biking, and camping with my family. I love that there are so many amazing outdoor spaces a short distance from the city.