March 3, 2011

New training program links vision research, quantitative genomics

New training program links vision research, quantitative genomics

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is one of two centers in the country awarded a grant from the National Eye Institute to fund a novel quantitative ocular genomics training program.

The five-year, $625,000 grant will assist Vanderbilt in better understanding eye diseases in a quest to find more effective treatments and, ultimately, developing preventive therapies.

Jonathan Haines, Ph.D.

Jonathan Haines, Ph.D.

It will also fill a niche in a field that is currently growing, according to Jonathan Haines, Ph.D., director of Vanderbilt's Center for Human Genetics Research, the T.H. Morgan Professor of Human Genetics and the grant's principal investigator.

“This is a highly specialized program,” said Haines. “Genomics is such an exploding field and there is so much going on with DNA sequencing. There is a real need to apply that technology to vision research.”

Vanderbilt is well positioned to participate in this level of training because of its strong clinical and research activities in ophthalmology and genomics.

“We have already had some cross fertilization with several ongoing projects in genomics and ophthalmology. And because of those interactions, we have demonstrated that we are highly qualified to train young scientists in this arena,” Haines said.

The training program began in February. It will typically fund students over a two-year period. The first post-doctoral student, Brian Yaspan, has been appointed, while the selection of the two pre-doctoral students will wait until May to open the selection to all incoming graduate students.

Vanderbilt's training program will focus on its strengths in glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.

The key to the success of the program, Haines said, is the collaborative nature and interaction between the genomics and vision faculties. He is looking forward to building stronger ties between the two communities.