Research and Innovation

by Satina Richardson

Jason Nichols, OD, MPH, PHD, FAAO, has been named UAB’s senior associate president for research. Nichols’ existing responsibilities include leading entrepreneurial and clinical trial initiatives in the Office of Research, serving on the Center for Clinical and Translational Science Executive Committee, and ongoing return to research operations planning. He will now also assume leadership duties of the merged offices of Research Development & Internal Programs as well as Research Engagement & Partnerships. 

by Caleb Jones

Yuqiang (Bob) Bai, PhD, a researcher in the lab of Jason Nichols, OD, MPH, PHD, FAAO, has been awarded an NEI/NIH R21 grant to develop an interferometry system with unprecedented sub-micron resolution to understand tear film structure and function in dry eye disease. The grant is for two years, totaling $370,101.

Research funding to the University of Alabama at Birmingham from the National Institutes of Health exceeded $325 million in 2020. The university received $325,573,502, according to the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research. That placed UAB 27th in the list of universities receiving funding from the NIH. Among public universities, UAB ranked 12th.

Read more on UAB News

The 2020 Springer Lecture honored Toronto-based optometrist Barbara Caffery, OD, PhD, FAAO. During her lecture, titled “Corneas, Contact Lenses and the Vale of Tears,” she noted the current leading matters of concern being faced by optometrists as well as the role of optometrists in unveiling the natural history of eye disease.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) has recognized Jason Nichols, OD, MPH, PhD, FAAO, UAB associate vice president for research and professor at the UAB School of Optometry, with its 2020 Vision Care Section (VSC) Outstanding Scientific Paper Award.

Researchers who made a knock-in mouse-model of the genetic disorder retinitis pigmentosa 59, or RP59, expected to see retinal degeneration and retinal thinning. As reported in the journal Cells, they surprisingly found none, calling into question the commonly accepted — though never proved — mechanism for RP59. 

Read more on UAB News 

Michael Savage, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, has been awarded an NEI/NIH F32 grant to study the relationship between neuronal orientation and color selectivity in the primary visual cortex.

The grant is for three years, totaling $136,823. It has been 20 years since one of these competitive postdoctoral grants from NEI was won by someone in the UAB School of Optometry.

Lawrence Sincich, Ph.D., associate professor and interim director of the graduate program in the School of Optometry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has received a grant renewal of $1.02 million from the National Institutes of Health, continuing his research on imaging and microstimulation of photoreceptors, the cells in the eyes that allow people to see.

Read more on UAB News

Timothy Kraft, PhD, professor and interim associate dean for research in the UAB School of Optometry, has received a grant renewal of $464,046 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), continuing research about the comprehensive quantification of cone dynamics. The cost for all 4-years is $1.77 million, and this notice is the award of year two of the four years. 

Researcher Om Srivastava, PhD, professor at the UAB School of Optometry, hopes to slow the progression of age-related cataracts, the most common causes of blindness in the world.

An R01 grant awarded to Lei Liu, PhD, FAAO, UAB School of Optometry associate professor, by the National Eye Institute/National Institutes of Health, will study the use of virtual reality and intelligent tutoring to make low vision rehabilitation more accessible and affordable.

Marina Gorbatyuk, PhD, associate professor of vision science, has been awarded a National Institutes of Health $297,000 R21 grant to study an animal model for the treatment of diabetic retinopathy and improve the sight of patients with the condition.

Jillian Ziemanski, OD, MS, FAAO, research assistant professor at the UAB School of Optometry, has been awarded a 5-year K23 grant for $717,250 from the National Eye Institute to evaluate mechanisms of autoimmunity in patients who have dry eye disease due to primary Sjögren’s syndrome (pSS).

The UAB School of Optometry’s pediatric clinic was named the November Pediatric Eye Disease Investigator Group (PEDIG) site of the month for recruiting the highest number of pediatric patients for clinical trials. The studies,  being conducted in partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Optometry and Ophthalmology, focus on conditions like lazy eye, eye turns and myopia.

A team of researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Optometry have been awarded a $1.5 million R01 grant to investigate ways to reduce the development of myopia, also known as nearsightedness.

Timothy Gawne, Ph.D., associate professor of optometry and vision science, was awarded the grant by the National Eye Institute based on research that suggests exposure to narrow-band red light can slow axial elongation.

With the addition of EyePrint PRO and the purchase of an sMap3D scleral topographer, the UAB School of Optometry now has the most advanced scleral contact lens technology available in its UAB Eye Care clinic. This means that almost all patients who need them can be fitted with a customized scleral contact lens.

Faculty members from the University of Alabama at BirminghamSchool of Optometry have received Pilot Award Grants from the Vision Science Research Center (VSRC), to support new project ideas that could have great potential to advance understanding of ocular disease.

Marina Gorbatyuk, PhD

A researcher at the UAB School of Optometry has been awarded a $1.25 million R01 grant from the National Eye Institute to study the regulation of protein synthesis in photoreceptors of mice with inherited retinal degeneration.

This research, led by Marina Gorbatyuk, PhD, associate professor of vision science, will not only lead to a better understanding of vision loss in humans, but will also promote the development of new strategies for stopping retinal degeneration.

Anna Ablamowicz, O.D.; Stephanie Cox, O.D.; Andrew Pucker, O.D., Ph.D.; Jillian Ziemanski, O.D., M.S.

In exchange for biomedical research in vision science, the National Institutes of Health are repaying the student debt of four faculty members at the UAB School of Optometry.

The faculty members who have contracts with the NIH Loan Repayment Programs, established by Congress to recruit and retain highly qualified health professionals into biomedical or biobehavioral research careers, are: Anna Ablamowicz, O.D., clinical assistant professor; Stephanie Cox, O.D., clinical assistant professor; Andrew Pucker, O.D., Ph.D., assistant professor; and Jillian Ziemanski, O.D., M.S., clinical assistant professor.

The programs repay up to $35,000 annually of a researcher’s qualified educational debt in return for a commitment to engage in NIH mission-relevant research.

UAB Myopia Control Clinic graphic

Two UAB School of Optometry faculty recently spoke to Birmingham pediatricians about the recommended guidelines for treating myopic pediatric patients and shared research about slowing myopia progression over time.

Katherine Weise, O.D., professor at the School of Optometry, and Andrew Pucker, O.D., assistant professor, spoke to grand rounds attendees at Children’s of Alabama on Thursday, June 22. Their presentation, “Controlling Nearsightedness: Headlines, Hyperbole, and Hypotheses vs. The Evidence,” also included information about the newly developed Myopia Control Clinic at UAB Eye Care.

If one or both parents of a child is myopic, or nearsighted, odds are the child will also develop myopia, explained Weise.

Two research presentations by UAB School of Optometry faculty and students were identified as some of the newest and most innovative topics at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO).

The presentations are part ARVO’s list of Emerging Trends and Hot Topics, which is compiled by ARVO committee members. The 2017 ARVO Annual Meeting was held May 7-11 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Andrew Pucker and Cameron Postnikoff smiling

A faculty member and a doctoral student at the UAB School of Optometry were awarded university funding for their research on dry eye disease.

Andrew Pucker, O.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, and Cameron Postnikoff, MASc, a doctoral student in the School of Optometry's Vision Science Graduate Program, received $10,000 as part of the UAB Faculty Development Grant Program for their proposal, “Tear Transcriptome Associations with Dry Eye Disease.”

An eye exam conducted at UAB

The UAB School of Optometry's Clinical Eye Research Facility is recruiting subjects for a contact lens comfort study. Participants who are happy contact lens wearers and those who have stopped wearing contact lenses for any reason may be eligible to participate. The study will involve a series of commonly used clinical tests. Photos of participants' eyes will be taken.

Minimum Eligibility Requirements:

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A study of 4,500 U.S. children over 20 years has identified a single test that can predict which kids will become nearsighted by the eighth grade: a measure of their current refractive error.

The refractive error, or eyeglasses prescription, results from mismatches in the size and optical power of the eye that lead to blurry vision.

The study also counters the notion that near work such as frequent reading or sitting too close to the television can bring on myopia, or nearsightedness.

UAB School of Optometry, under the leadership of Drs. Wendy Marsh-Tootle and Kristine Hopkins, was awarded approximately $500,000 in grant funding by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the Convergence Insufficiency Treatment Trial-Attention and Reading Trial (CITT-ART). UABSO is one of eight clinical sites nationwide participating in this study.