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Calkins lands innovation award from Research to Prevent Blindness

Jun. 28, 2018, 9:16 AM

David Calkins, PhD, vice chair and director of Research at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute

David Calkins, PhD

, has been granted one of the preeminent awards in vision research — the Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) Stein Innovation Award.

The award, $300,000 over the next two years, provides flexible funding to scientists engaged in research with the goal of understanding the visual system and the diseases that compromise its function.

Calkins, the Denis O’Day Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and director of the Vanderbilt Vision Research Center, will use the grant to fund work focused on energy depletion in the optic nerve in glaucoma and how interactions between support cells called astrocyte glia and axonal fibers in the nerve may compensate for this depletion to prolong visual signaling in the brain.

“This award is extremely competitive,” said Calkins. “It is a rare award, one that honors the innovative nature of the winner’s research into blinding eye disease.”

Calkins said the project in part reflects the neuroscience dissertation of his senior graduate student, PhD candidate Melissa Cooper.

Calkins is one of 11 researchers who have received the award, named for Jules Stein, MD, an ophthalmologist who founded RPB and co-founded the Music Corporation of America.

The Stein Innovation Award was established in 2014 to provide seed money to proposed high-risk/high-gain vision science research that is innovative, cutting-edge and demonstrates out-of-the-box thinking.

“David Calkins has emerged as one of our nation’s most talented and impactful vision researchers,” said Paul Sternberg Jr., MD, George Weeks Hale Professor and chair of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and director of the Vanderbilt Eye Institute.

“His work on mechanisms of optic nerve damage in glaucoma has established links between glaucoma and other brain diseases, demonstrated the importance of novel therapeutic targets in abating progression of the disease and emphasized how early events influence subsequent stages of the disease,” Sternberg said.

In addition to the Stein Innovation Award, RPB also granted the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine an unrestricted grant for $115,000 per year to support eye research conducted by the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

VUSM holds one of 33 RPB Unrestricted Grants nationwide.

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