J. Crawford Downs, Ph.D.

Vice-chair of Research; Director, Ocular Biomechanics and Biotransport Program; Professor

Secondary Appointments:
Professor of Biomedical Engineering 
Professor of Computer and Information Sciences

Areas of Interest:
ocular biomechanics, glaucoma

Dr. Downs is a professor of ophthalmology and vice-chair of research for the UAB Department of Ophthalmology. Dr. Downs joined the faculty in 2012 as the founding director of the department’s ocular biomechanics and biotransport program. This program is a multidisciplinary effort to study the underlying disease pathophysiologies of blinding eye conditions through the framework of biomechanics and biotransport. As part of the program, Dr. Downs’ current research focuses specifically on the impact of intraocular pressure (IOP), aging, and African heritage on the development and progression of glaucoma.

Dr. Downs is a native of Alexandria, La. He received his Bachelor of Arts (1991) and Master of Arts (1992) in economics from Tulane University in New Orleans, La. 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 Ph.D. (2002) in biomedical engineering from Tulane University under the direction of Richard T. Hart, Ph.D., and Claude F. Burgoyne, M.D.. After a brief postdoctoral fellowship at the LSU Eye Center under Dr. Burgoyne, Dr. Downs transitioned to assistant research professor in August of 2002. Dr. Downs joined the faculty at the Devers Eye Institute in Portland, Ore., in 2005. There he directed the Ocular Biomechanics Laboratory and developed the IOP telemetry and computational and experimental ocular biomechanics methods he now employs.

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.

Research Program

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.

Ocular Biomechanics and Biotransport Program

In order to leverage the synergistic expertise of investigators across campus, the UAB department of ophthalmology has created the program for ocular biomechanics and biotransport, which is under the direction of Dr. Downs. The program brings together faculty with engineering, biology, and imaging expertise to study glaucoma, myopia, keratoconus, macular degeneration, and other blinding eye diseases and conditions.

Pub Med search for recent publications

Education & Training

Undergraduate Degree: Tulane University, Economics
Graduate Degrees: Economics (MA); Biomedical Engineering (MS and PhD)
Postdoctoral Fellowship: LSU Eye Center; Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center

Contact Information

Mailing Address: University of Alabama at Birmingham
1670 University Blvd., VH Office 290A
Birmingham, AL 35294
Physical Campus Address: 390A Volker Hall
Phone: 205-996-8674
Email:  cdowns@uab.edu