By Satina Richardson

 

Jason Nichols, OD, MPH, PhD, has received the Contact Lens Cornea Section Legends Award from the American Optometric Association (AOA).

This award is given to optometrists who demonstrate intellectual depth and passion toward contact lenses, cornea, or refractive technology and quest for continued learning and firm foundation of basic and clinical sciences of contact lenses and anterior segment. Recipients also must exhibit exceptional leadership skills and mentoring, innovation, and desire to advance research.

Nichols is a professor at the UAB School of Optometry as well as associate vice president for research at UAB. He developed a strong interest in contact lenses and the ocular surface early in his optometric training.

As an optometry student, he worked in the laboratory of Dick Hill, OD, PhD—Dean Emeritus of The Ohio State University (OSU) College of Optometry and one of the many influential pioneers in contact lens research. Nichols was also influenced and mentored by two other well-known contact lens experts—Joe Barr, OD (Professor Emeritus at OSU) and Karla Zadnik, OD, PhD (current Dean at OSU). He became involved in the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Keratoconus (CLEK) study as well. These experiences led Nichols to pursue a residency in contact lenses and complete graduate training that focused on contact lenses and dry eye disease.

“It has been a very rewarding field and I have been excited to be a part of it all along,” he said. “I have been fortunate to have outstanding family members and professional mentors in my career, and their advice and counsel has guided me throughout. While I am honored and humbled to be acknowledged, I am ever so grateful to those who have given their time to me. They are really the legends and deserve every bit, if not more of the credit.”

Most recently, Nichols has received national attention for his research on COVID-19 and contact lens safety. The timely research was conducted in partnership with several other leading internationally recognized vision scientists. The research findings have been used by many in the ophthalmic industry to guide the care of contact lens wearers during the pandemic.

His view is that two very important contact lens-related focuses are dry eye disease and myopia management. Nichols shared that these are both areas of significant interest in the optometric community right now from a practitioner, industry, and patient perspective. Dry eye is a frequent disease (the most frequent impacting ophthalmic practice) and myopia is often suggested to be a pandemic itself, according to Nichols.

“We have come a long way in each of these areas, but still need research and clinical solutions for our patients,” he said. “There have been remarkable changes in both of these areas and we have clinicians, researchers, and the industry to be proud of as we make strides here.”

Nichols has received research funding from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health to study dry eye diseases including meibomian gland disease, dry eye, and contact lens-related dry eye. He has also received funding from the American Optometric Foundation, in addition to a variety of industrial partners in excess of $10 million as principal investigator, and $100 million as co-investigator. He writes and lectures extensively on contact lenses and ocular surface conditions such as dry eye and meibomian gland disease. He has authored over 150 peer-reviewed manuscripts, over 200 clinical manuscripts, over 200 abstracts, and has given over 200 lectures worldwide on these topics.

Nichols is a dual diplomate in both the American Academy of Optometry’s (AAO) sections of Public Health and Environmental Optometry and Cornea, Contact Lenses, and Refractive Technology. He has also chaired the AAO’s Research Committee and is a prior member of the board of directors of the American Optometric Foundation—the philanthropic arm of the AAO. He also chaired the Tear Film and Ocular Surface (TFOS) Society’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Board, and the TFOS International Workshop on Contact Lens Discomfort. His awards include three Ezell Fellowships and the Borish Award from the AAO and Distinguished Scholar and Fellow of the National Academies of Practice. In 2016, Nichols was honored as one of Contact Lens Spectrum’s top 30 most influential in the field of contact lenses over the last 30 years.