UAB Optometry awarded grant for dry eye research

The National Eye Institute has awarded UAB’s Jason Nichols and colleagues a $1.9 million grant for dry eye research that could lead to a targeted therapy.
Written by Keaira Turner
Media contact: Alicia Rohan,

jason nichols 2016Jason Nichols, O.D., Ph.D., continues to advance dry eye research at UAB with $1.9 million grant from the National Eye Institute.University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry researchers have been awarded a $1.9 million grant to study potential molecular markers in patients that could predict structural and functional changes of the eye in dry eye disease, and may lead to a targeted therapy.

“Dry eye is the most frequent eye disease that an eye care practitioner sees,” said Jason Nichols, O.D., Ph.D., professor in the UAB School of Optometry and assistant vice president for Industry Research Development in the UAB Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development. “The study will look at the lipid layer of the eye and the biochemical changes that cause dry eye. Once we understand these changes, we will be able to better treat the condition that affects up to 30 percent of the world.”

The National Eye Institute-funded study focuses on the impact of one of three layers on the eye, the outer lipid layer, an oil-based layer produced by glands that line the eye, sealing the tear film. The lipid layer helps decrease evaporation of our natural tears and provides a smooth surface needed for optimal vision. The lipid layer is where the problem lies for most people who develop dry eye symptoms.

Nichols was recently recognized as a top leader in the contact lens industry by Contact Lens Spectrum.
Nichols looks to target and identity the fatty acids that decrease the tear film, and their structural impact on the eye, using custom-built optical systems capable of measuring the very thin tear film. This study will help determine the functional impact of the lipid layer that increases the evaporation of the thinning tear film, causing dry eye.

“We hope to find the specific lipid that has been altered in the lipid layer to be able to provide patients with targeted treatment by either replacing the lipid or fixing the glands so they express the right amount of lipids,” Nichols said.