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Steve Chaplin
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, June 29, 2009

IU School of Optometry named national vision research center

$2.2 million will facilitate infrastructure upgrades aimed at accelerating research

June 29, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A group of scientists working in Indiana University's School of Optometry and the Department of Biology will share more than $2.2 million from the National Institutes of Health to support their ongoing vision research.

Optometry building photo

Photo by Hillary Demmon

Indiana University's School of Optometry, pictured above at 800 E. Atwater Ave. in Bloomington, will receive $2.2 million from the National Institutes of Health to enhance collaborative research support for 10 investigators already receiving independent NIH support for vision research.

Print-Quality Photo

The grant from the National Eye Institute, an arm of NIH, places the Indiana University Bloomington campus among an elite group of vision research centers in the nation. By providing core services to investigators who have already independently received funding from NEI, the grants will accelerate the progress of vision research through support for widely used research services.

Because the grant can ultimately assist individuals with National Eye Institute support across the entire campus, it will be a resource for all vision scientists. Currently, the core grant supports the research efforts of 10 NEI-funded IU researchers, including optometry Professor Stephen Burns, principal investigator on the grant. Burns has been continuously funded by NEI since 1982.

Joining Burns as co-investigators are:

  • School of Optometry Professors Joseph Bonanno, Ann Elsner, William Swanson and Larry Thibos
  • School of Optometry Associate Professors Rowan Candy and Donald Miller
  • School of Optometry Assistant Professor Pete Kollbaum
  • School of Optometry Research Associate Dean VanNasdale
  • Department of Biology Associate Professor Justin Kumar.

IU School of Optometry Interim Dean Sarita Soni said award of the grant confirms recognition by the National Eye Institute and NIH that the expansion of vision research under way at the school warranted additional support. Faculty at the school have received four additional independent research grants from NEI in just the past two years, and the number of research laboratories at the school has grown from eight to 15 in the past eight years.

The school has also added nine new faculty members in the past eight years, including Burns, Elsner, Swanson and assistant professor Shirin Hassan in the past four years, and plans to hire three more investigators over the next five years to meet the needs of its growing vision science and optometry programs.

"This award fulfills one of the key strategic goals that the School of Optometry faculty set for its research program 10 years ago. The research funding and publications have increased exponentially in the last few years, and we anticipate this growth to continue," Soni said. "With this new support the National Eye Institute has recognized the strength of the program that we have built and our commitment to be one of the very best vision science research programs in the country. This new award will help insure that our vision scientists remain focused and that IU continues to attract and support the very best investigators with the greatest potential to establish vigorous program in vision research."

The grant aims to support infrastructure improvements in three areas where researchers share resources -- electronics, machine shop and scientific computing -- and will play an integral role in allowing for the seamless integration of mechanical, electronic and software components in the design and use of custom research equipment and new clinical technology.

The new funding will have broad applications to vision research projects related to microscopic and ocular fluorimetry, cell physiology and molecular biology, advanced measurement and modeling of the optics of the eye, novel imaging of the structures of the normal and pathological living human eye, studies of the normal and abnormal developing human visual system, and the development of new quantitative strategies to assess visual function in a clinical setting.

This award will also allow for a new level of coordinated activity among laboratories and groups and support sustained interaction with sophisticated supercomputing and 3D visualization resources, including collaboration with University Information Technology Services. The school already has active collaborations under way with the cognitive science, computer science, mathematics and neuroscience departments at IU.

"We are thrilled the National Eye Institute saw the numerous concrete examples of the significant support the school and the IU Bloomington campus has provided for vision research in its quest to become a major center for vision research and for training future vision researchers," Burns said. "By funding improvements in electronics, mechanical design and computing assets, the research group will be able to improve and speed up the design and implementation of new and customizable instrumentation, a process that currently demands some of the work to be contracted out, which can be costly, relatively slow and inflexible during the testing process. Furthermore, our current machine shop structure has many non-research tasks that compete for time with research jobs, and additional core support will make this system much more responsive to our research needs."

Indiana University's School of Optometry was one of only two programs in the country accepted this year into the NEI core grant program and now joins 32 other schools nationwide that operate NEI-funded vision research centers. The grant period runs from July 2009 into 2014.

To speak with Burns or Soni, please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896 or