Explore UAB

by Cary Estes

When it comes to research faculty recruitment and research grants, 2022 was a very good year for the UAB School of Optometry.

Four new faculty members joined the School of Optometry, bringing an expansion in areas of expertise. There also was a 4-percent growth in funding through a total of more than 20 grants that were either new or renewed within the vision science department.

“I’m very proud of the overall health of the re­search program in the School of Optometry,” says Timothy Kraft, PhD, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies. “We’ve had a combination of successful recruiting of new faculty who have quickly had success in achieving funding to get their research programs started, as well as new awards by senior faculty.”

Kraft says faculty recruitment is a priority for the School of Optometry, partly because several cur­rent members are nearing retirement, and school officials want to be proactive in maintaining a full, experienced staff.

"We’re looking for both a rejuvenation and an expansion," Kraft says. "We’re working to maintain a high quality of involvement with our faculty in both clinical science and translational science by hiring faculty who will communicate with each other and potentially work together.”

The four new assistant professors are already funded and their labs are staffed, and they are all on the tenure track.

Edmund Arthur, OD, PhD, FAAO: Earned his OD from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, followed by a PhD in Vision Science with a Biostatistics minor from Indi­ana University. Arthur’s PhD dissertation focused on detecting preclinical retinal changes in diabetic patients using advanced retinal imaging.

“Dr. Arthur is interested in using the eye as a prognosticator of systemic diseases such as dia­betic retinopathy and Alzheimer’s, where the eye can tell us things about the body,” Kraft says. “He has been a very prolific grant writer, and got an outstanding score on his first R21 submission.”

 Safal Khanal, OD, PhD, FAAO: Received his optometry and vision science training in Nepal and the Philippines before joining the University of Auckland School of Optometry and Vision Science in New Zealand, where he gained his first postdoc­toral fellowship. He then moved to the U.S. for his second postdoctoral fellowship at UAB.

“Dr. Khanal works on dry eye and the mech­anisms of myopia from a molecular standpoint,” Kraft says. “He has already won two awards, including a $100,000 grant (from the E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation for the Blind).”

 Julie Quinet, PhD: Earned her PhD in Neurosci­ences from the Claude Bernard Lyon I University in France. She came to UAB after several postdoctor­al positions, including at the University of Roches­ter in New York and the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“Dr. Quinet has excellent funding through a five-year R01 grant for primate research on binoc­ular vision, and she also teaches binocular vision material to our students,” Kraft says. “She’s a really good fit for our school.”

 Yuchen Wang, PhD: Received his PhD in Molecular Pharmacology from Purdue University, then spent time at the University of Florida Scripps Biomedical Research lab studying the molecular mechanisms that govern the selective wiring of rods and cones.

“Dr. Wang arrived in July with a prestigious NIH R00 award, which funds multiple years of post-doctoral fellowship,” Kraft says. “He’s working on the development of synaptic connections in the retina. There are a number of eye diseases in which that’s a problem.”

Overall, more than three-fourths of the School of Optometry’s faculty is involved in some sort of research.

“That means a lot of clinicians are working on research projects along with their main task of teaching clinical instruction,” Kraft says. “So there is a healthy integration of research within the school that is both new and old, and runs across many different disciplines.”