Facility Opens New Avenues in Vision Science

By Grant Martin

Eye IllustrationA group of new laboratories at UAB are bringing vision researchers closer together—in hopes that rubbing shoulders will produce new insights into blinding diseases. The state-of-the-art facility, which opened earlier this fall in one-and-a-half newly renovated floors in Volker Hall, will bring together faculty from the School of Optometry’s Department of Vision Sciences and the School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology.

Vision loss stems from a wide variety of diseases, including glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration. Scientists in the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama Vision Research Laboratories will focus on examining the underlying pathologies of these conditions and on uncovering the reasons why blinding diseases are so common in the southeastern United States. “The incidence of partial vision loss and blindness is disproportionately high in the Southeast,” says Paul Gamlin, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Vision Sciences, “so UAB is particularly well-suited for this type of facility. We hope to provide the infrastructure for research that will help prevent vision loss throughout the state, region, and nation.”

The new labs mark the largest collaborative research effort between optometry and ophthalmology nationwide. “We have a strong group of vision scientists on campus,” says Lanning Kline, M.D., chair of the Department of Ophthalmology. “These researchers have made great strides on their own, but in a lot of cases, they’re working several blocks apart. The EyeSight Foundation of Alabama recognized the value of bringing these two groups together to generate new ideas and accelerate research through collaboration.”

UAB vision scientists are already exploring many aspects of retinal research, Kline says. “One scientist may be studying retinal degeneration with loss of photoreceptor cells while another scientist located a number of blocks away is attempting to make stem cells differentiate into retinal cells and restore sight. Last year, those two might only have seen each other occasionally. This facility will put them together on a daily basis, and they may discover areas where their findings complement one another.”

The facility was created through a $1.2 million grant from the EyeSight Foundation, as well as through funding from the schools of medicine and optometry and the UAB provost’s office. “In this much more fertile environment,” Kline says, “we will be competitive with any program in the country.”