Professor of Ophthalmology
Vice-chair of Basic Science Research
Professor of Biomedical Engineering (UAB, Tulane University, and Oregon Health and Science University)
Professor of Computer and Information Sciences (UAB)
J. Crawford Downs, PhD is a native of Alexandria, Louisiana. He received his Bachelor of Arts (1991) and Master of Arts (1992) in economics from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. He then attended the University of New Orleans, where he completed the undergraduate coursework necessary to qualify for graduate school in engineering. He received his Masters of Science (1998) and PhD (2002) in biomedical engineering at Tulane University under the direction of Richard T. Hart, PhD and Claude F. Burgoyne, MD. After a brief postdoctoral fellowship at the LSU Eye Center under Dr. Claude Burgoyne, Dr. Downs transitioned to Assistant Research Professor in August of 2002. Dr. Downs joined the faculty at the Devers Eye Institute in Portland, Oregon in 2005, where he directed the Ocular Biomechanics Laboratory and developed the IOP telemetry and computational and experimental ocular biomechanics methods he now employs. He joined the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine in 2012 as a Professor and founding director of the Center for Ocular Biomechanics and Biotransport (COBB).
Service to Science:
Dr. Downs is a frequent reviewer for many ophthalmology, vision science, and engineering journals. He is also a frequent grant reviewer for the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health, foreign governments, and foreign and domestic foundations.
Dr. Downs is married to Georgia Houk Downs, an architect who has built a professional career in product design. They have two children, James and Julia. Dr. Downs is an avid cook and woodworker, and he and Georgia have won several regional awards for their collaborative furniture designs.
The role of intraocular pressure (IOP) in the development and progression of glaucoma is still unclear, even though IOP is the principal risk factor for development of the disease. The eye is a pressure vessel, and we believe that the eyes of each person deform differently in response to IOP. This could explain, in part, the variations in susceptibility to IOP-related damage in glaucoma. To investigate the relationship between IOP and glaucoma, Dr. Downs’ laboratory studies the eye as a mechanical pressure vessel using a combination of engineering-based experimental and computational approaches. Experimentally, we perform eye inflation testing to determine the stiffness of the various load-bearing tissues of the eye for use in our computational eye models. We have also developed a telemetry system to characterize the level of IOP as it changes throughout the day. Computationally, we use multi-scale computer models of individual eyes with realistic anatomic geometries that are used to predict the forces and IOP-induced deformations of the ocular load-bearing tissues. The results of this work should help improve our understanding of the role of IOP in glaucoma, and hopefully lead to better clinical screening and diagnostic tools.
In order to leverage the synergistic expertise of investigators across campus, the UAB School of Medicine is creating the Center for Ocular Biomechanics and Biotransport (COBB), which will be under the direction of Dr. Downs. The mission of the COBB will be to serve as a multi-disciplinary center that brings together faculty with engineering, biology, and imaging expertise to study the ocular biomechanics and biotransport problems that underlie disease pathophysiologies in glaucoma, myopia, keratoconus, macular degeneration, and other blinding eye diseases and conditions.
Biomedical Engineering (MS and PhD)
LSU Eye Center
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center