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Drs. Jason and Kelly Nichols received the Fry Medal from OSU.
Drs. Jason and Kelly Nichols received the Fry Medal from The Ohio State University College of Optometry.

by Satina Richardson

The Ohio State University College of Optometry awarded Drs. Kelly and Jason Nichols the prestigious Fry Medal in Physiological Optics. The Fry Medal is awarded to individuals who have truly distinguished themselves with long and exemplary records of vision research only when notable recipients are identified. They delivered the Westheimer Endowed Lecture as part of the honor.

“My first office space was in the area that was Dr. Fry’s lab—he was such a legend in the vision science community, and I thought of him often as I heard stories of his career,” Kelly said. “It is indeed an honor to receive an award that carries his name.”

OSU’s acting dean explained the impact of Kelly and Jason’s research.

“Jason and Kelly Nichols have conducted all types of research – from basic to clinical – and it has all led to new knowledge and innovative treatments in dry eye,” said Jeffrey Walline, acting dean of the OSU College of Optometry. “They have also led very important publications that summarized new knowledge for clinicians and therefore changed the standard of care through the Tear Film Ocular Society Dry Eye Workshop reports. In short, Jason and Kelly are influential research scientists and optometric leaders who have advanced our profession through quality research.”

Kelly earned her MPH and PhD and Jason earned his OD, MPH and PhD degrees from OSU. The Nichols met and married after meeting there and launched their careers in research while students at the university.

“All of my training was at Ohio State, and I was also a resident and faculty member,” Jason said. “Our kids were born and grew up in the Columbus area so there are good friends and colleagues there. It was fun to see some of the people we started our careers with when we traveled to OSU for this award.”

Since leaving Ohio, each has forged successful careers in vision science research and is respected globally within the industry.

“Their research has affected the care of dry eye patients worldwide,” Walline said.

Dean of the UAB School of Optometry, Kelly is extensively published, with more than 125 papers and has had NIH NEI funding in dry eye and meibomian gland dysfunction. Additionally, she has participated in numerous clinical trials and research studies over the last 25 years. Kelly is an industry leader who has served on the Tear Film Ocular Surface Society steering committees and is part of the Lifestyle workshop as well, creating influential white papers in the field. She is currently secretary of the research advocacy group NAEVR/AVER and is past president of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry.

Fry MedalsAs the Senior Associate Vice President for Research in the UAB's Office of Research, Jason oversees university-wide institutional research centers (~30 university-wide and ~70 school-based centers) and the Research Development Office. He has been instrumental in overseeing the clinical trials initiative at the university level, more than tripling university-wide clinical trials expenditures ($128m in FY23).

Jason is also an internationally recognized clinician-scientist with a long-standing track record of research development, oversight, and scientific discovery. He has over 180 publications and his research employs state-of-the-art facilities and equipment for studying dry eye, meibomian gland disease, and pharmaceutical and medical device development and testing. His NIH funding continues to impact the field.

The Nichols said mentors contributed significantly to their success. The most important advice Kelly offers to up-and-coming researchers is to form mentor/mentee relationships.

“Research mentors make a huge difference—there are both big and little research things that you can learn the hard way by yourself, or you can ask those who have done research in your area,” she said. “Mentors can be different across your career and provide unique support and advice.”

They also attribute their achievements to having opportunities to work together, sharing ideas and resources and to their research family. The two have worked with each other on complimentary NIH grants that have impacted future research. They have designed, planned, and executed a large study that resulted in numerous papers and presentations that have impacted future research.

“Clinical research takes a team, and acts like a research family where everyone contributes to the project,” he said. “We have had the good fortune to collaborate with exceptional researchers and team members across the country and globe. We couldn’t have done this without everyone’s contribution, so really, this award is a thank you to them as well.”