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by Satina Richardson

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is one of the first, if not the first, academic centers in the United States to acquire a new, state-of-the-art microscope that will advance vision science discoveries at the university. This microscope is the only one of its kind in the southeast region and one of few available in the United States due to the newness of the technology. 

The Nikon AXR Confocal Microscope has advanced artificial intelligence built into many aspects of its function, which greatly simplifies microscope setup and leads to the acquisition of the most optimal images for research purposes. 

“The instrument should allow vision scientists to view microstructure and dynamics of the eye at unparalleled levels of detail that may reveal novel previously unappreciated phenomenon that lead to new treatments for ocular disease,” said Seven Pittler, VSRC co-director and UAB School of Optometry vision science professor. “UAB scientists in other fields can also benefit from the use of the instrument for the study of non-ocular tissues and other organisms.” 

According to Pittler, the microarchitecture of the anterior and posterior eye and brain structures will be studied and applied to the understanding of diseases such as glaucoma, retinal degeneration including age related macular degeneration (AMD), retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and diabetic retinopathy. 

Combined funds from a National Institutes of Health/National Eye Institute (NIH/NEI) P30 Vision Core Grant, the UAB School of Optometry, the UAB School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences (Buck Trust), and the Vision Science Research Center (VSRC) made the acquisition possible. 

The P30 Center Core Grant from the NIH/NEI funds in part the four research support cores which provide a variety of services at centralized locations on campus, ranging from comprehensive data analysis to basic equipment repair. Renewed in 2020, the P30 has continuously helped fund the university’s vision research since 1979.

The VSRC, one of 24 UAB University-Wide Interdisciplinary Research Centers, was established to draw together vision scientists from the entire UAB campus. There are currently more than 82 appointed faculty members representing 17 departments and five schools at UAB and at the Birmingham VA Medical Center. 

“This instrument is one of the most significant investments the P30 has made in its lifetime and should advance vision science discoveries in laboratories of researchers across campus,” said Brian Samuels, associate professor of ophthalmology, Dennis Endowed Professor in Glaucoma Research and P30 director. 

We were in a unique position to have accumulated significant unused funds over the previous year as we worked to move all of the cores to a centralized location in Volker Hall on campus.  We owe a great deal of gratitude to Drs. Kelly Nichols, Christopher Girkin, and Pittler for their generosity in matching these unused P30 funds in order to cover the cost of the instrument.”

Samuels added that without combined support, this purchase would not have been possible.  

“This instrument will likely become a cornerstone for research laboratories across campus for years to come, but also an attractive resource that will help us recruit some of the most sought-after vision scientists to UAB,” he said.