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Innovative Young Investigators Attract Millions in Research Grants

L to R: Lindsay Rhodes, MD; Lyne Racette, PhD; Brian Samuels, MD, PhD; MiYoung Kwon, PhD; Rafael Grytz, PhD; and Massimo Fazio, PhD
Six of the UAB Department of Ophthalmology’s young investigators brought in nearly $13.5 million in National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants. These flourishing careers at UAB continue to transform the lives of patients living with blinding diseases through discovery, prevention, and treatment. Our young investigators are committed to preventing, treating, and curing all forms of blinding disease through advanced research and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Lindsay Rhodes, MD; Lyne Racette, PhD; Brian Samuels, MD, PhD; MiYoung Kwon, PhD; Rafael Grytz, PhD; and Massimo Fazio, PhD, are six young researchers who are revolutionizing science right here at UAB. The resources for awarded research grants are slowly dwindling as the NIH continues to reduce funding, making our dedicated young investigators an even greater asset to our research program.

These researchers come from across the country and around the world to bring their diverse wealth of knowledge to the UAB Department of Ophthalmology. Blinding disease can be debilitating for patients and their families, so more research into developing new treatments is desperately needed. Some researchers are studying basic science, while others are exploring root causes, preventive measures, and delivery models, making for a well-rounded, comprehensive research program. The young investigators highlighted below are dedicated to groundbreaking research:

Massimo A. Fazio, PhD, assistant professor

Dr. Fazio and his colleague, Christopher Girkin, MD, EyeSight Professor and chairman of Ophthalmology, received a four-year, $2.55 million R01 grant from the NIH to explore how visual field loss developed with glaucoma is associated with individual-specific biomechanics of the eye. The African Descent and Glaucoma Evaluation Study (ADAGES) seeks to understand why individuals of African descent are at greater risk of developing glaucoma. To learn more about Dr. Fazio’s ADAGES research, see the story here.

Rafael Grytz, PhD, associate professor

Dr. Grytz has two NIH-funded grants. Both are R01 grants from the NEI to explore the underlying cause of myopia, the most common refractive error of the eye, and the influence of ocular remodeling of glaucoma. Utilizing his knowledge of biomechanics, Dr. Grytz’s laboratory has made major advances in the treatment of blinding eye diseases.

MiYoung Kwon, PhD, assistant professor

Dr. Kwon received her first R01 grant in 2017 from the NIH to study the perceptual mechanisms responsible for reading difficulty in glaucoma. This research could have a significant impact on patients, as it seeks to alleviate reading difficulties and optimize their remaining vision. To learn more about Dr. Kwon’s glaucoma research, see the story here.

Lyne Racette, PhD, associate professor

Dr. Racette recently joined UAB Ophthalmology from Indiana University, where she was a pivotal figure in its research program. She will serve in the same capacity for UAB’s research aimed at identifying changes in glaucoma. Her NIH-funded grant seeks to detect and prevent glaucoma progression through a novel approach, allowing clinicians to make accurate assessments for patients.

Lindsay Rhodes, MD, assistant professor

Dr. Rhodes received a $1 million NIH/NEI grant to study new care delivery models to treat glaucoma. She says it is essential to develop novel health care models, utilizing telemedicine, to improve the ability of routine eye exams to detect glaucoma at an earlier stage, and to provide a platform to manage this disease in community-based clinics to prevent further vision loss. The grant includes funding to develop Dr. Rhodes into an independent investigator through mentored research and the completion of a Master of Science in Public Health.

Brian C. Samuels, MD, PhD, associate professor

Dr. Samuels has three NIH-funded grants. One is a five-year, $1.5 million award (his first R01 grant) to explore the links between circadian fluctuations and glaucoma. The second is a five-year, $2.3 million multi-PI R01 grant with Rafael Grytz, PhD, to study the link between myopia and glaucoma, and the third is an R21 grant that aims to validate the use of a tree shrew model in treating glaucoma. Dr. Samuels also recently received the Research to Prevent Blindness Physician-Scientist Award, and he continues to collaborate with scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and NASA’s Glenn Research Center to understand why astronauts who spend long periods of time in space are experiencing vision problems.