Updated VDI News

Drs. Ruth Caldwell, Modesto Rojas and Syed Adel-Zaidi

 Drs. Ruth Caldwell & Modesto Rojas


Fantastic News!

Ruth CaldwelOur VDI faculty members’ Research Support from NIH/NEI.Dr. Modesto Rojas

Drs. Ruth Caldwell and Modesto Rojas in the Vascular Biology Center (VBC) have just received a Notice of Award that their multi-PI NEI grant will be funded for four years. The title of the new grant is “Myeloid ACAT1 in Ischemic Retinopathy”.


Congratulations to Drs. Caldwell, Rojas, and their research team on this outstanding news in the new year!

Dr. Xingjun Fan

 Dr. Xingjun Fan & Team


Great news!

Our VDI faculty members’ Research Support from NIH/NEI

Dr. Xingjun Fan in the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy (CBA) has just received a Notice of Award from NIH that his NEI R01 grant has been successfully renewed for another five years until 2029. The title of the renewal grant is “Mechanism and Consequences of Impaired Glutathione Homeostasis in the Ageing Lens”. Dr. Ashok Sharma in the Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine is a Co-Investigator.

Congratulations to Dr. Fan and his research team on this outstanding news!

Dr. Mitch Watsky

Dr. Mitch Watsky


Great News!

Dr. Mitch Watsky has just received a Notice of Grant Award from NIH that his NEI R01 grant will be funded.  The title of the grant is “Soluble epoxide hydrolase and epoxide fatty acid involvement in corneal injury after ammonia exposure: Mechanisms of injury and potential therapeutics using sEH inhibitors and biostable EpFA mimics.”  Dr. Bruce Hammock (UC Davis) is also a co-investigator.

Congratulations Dr. Watsky on this outstanding news!

Dr. Mitch Watsky

Dr. Mitch Watsky


Great News!

We are delighted to share with you great news that Dr. Mitch Watsky has received a Notice of Grant Award from NIH. His NEI-funded R01 entitled  “Temporary plasma membrane disruptions in corneal epithelium and keratocytes” will be funded for the next four years. Bone biologist Dr. Meghan McGee-Lawrence (CBA) is a Co-Investigator on this project. 

This is great news and a fantastic example of the power of collaboration!  Congratulations to Mitch and the team. Best wishes for a very successful project!

Dr. Yutao Liu

Dr.  Yutao Liu


Fantastic News!

We are very pleased to share with you the news that Dr. Yutao Liu has received a Notice of Grant Award from NIH that his NEI R01 grant will be funded for the next 5 years! 

The title of the grant is “Estrogen and its receptor in intraocular pressure regulation.”  Other colleagues at Augusta University who are co-investigators on the award are Drs. Bollinger, Xu, Bosomtwi and Smith.   

Congratulations Dr. Liu and your team!

Dr. Ming Zhang

Dr. Ming Zhang


Great News!

Dr. Ming Zhang has renewed his grant with the Retina Research Foundation.  The grant studies the role of RIP kinase 3 in the development of AMD-like pathologies during cytomegalovirus latency. 

Congratulations Dr. Zhang!

Dr. Yutao Liu

Dr.  Yutao Liu


Fantastic News!

Dr.  Yutao Liu has been notified that his R21 grant entitled “MIR182 and Ocular Hypertension” has been approved for funding by the National Eye Institute!  The R21 funding mechanism supports high-risk, high-impact research projects.  Dr. Liu and co-investigator Dr.  Xingjun Fan are working together on this project and we wish them great success as they pursue this new line of work!

Congratulations Dr. Liu!

Dr. Yutao Liu

Dr. Yutao Liu


I am delighted to announce that Dr. Yutao Liu has received a notice of grant award from NIH for his role as a consultant on an NEI funded R01 entitled “Role of Cellular Memory in Glaucoma”!  The truly special part of this award is that the PI on the grant is none other than our own former graduate student Dr. Samuel Herbert, (State University of New York) which makes this collaboration particularly special. 


Congratulations Dr. Liu and thanks for your work with our former trainee! 


Dr. Pamela Martin

Dr. Pamela Martin


NEI STTR award for promising therapy for diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness in the US.  Dr. Pamela Martin and Dr. Ravirahsinh Jadeja have been awarded a grant from the National Eye Institute to investigate HBI-002, a novel oral carbon monoxide compound, as a treatment for diabetic retinopathy.  Drs. Martin and Jadeja are working collaboratively with Dr. Edward Gomperts of Hillhurst Biopharmaceuticals to study the potential benefit of low dosage carbon monoxide in models of diabetic retinopathy, which is a key step toward clinical trials.   She and her colleagues have shown that low dosage carbon monoxide has cytoprotective properties.  Their proposal overcomes some of the barriers associated with carbon monoxide delivery as a therapeutic strategy.  It also seeks to determine whether the novel compound can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation associated with diabetic retinopathy.   Congratulations Dr. Martin and colleagues!

Dr. Steven Brooks

Dr. Steven Brooks


Steven Brooks has joined the Medical College of Georgia as the new chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and holds the William S. Hagler endowed chair in Ophthalmology.  Dr. Brooks will serve as the clinical co-director of the VDI.  Dr. Brooks joins MCG from Columbia University where he held the Anne S. Cohen Professorship of Pediatric Ophthalmology and also served as the medical director of Jonas Children’s Vision Care, an integrated effort between Columbia University Medical Center and Jonas Philanthropies to prevent and treat blindness and other serious eye disorders in children.   Dr. Brooks is an expert in strabismus and has a robust research program in retinopathy of prematurity, pediatric glaucoma and ocular surgical therapies for strabismus.   Dr. Brooks is a member of the Research Committee of the American Academy of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus and serves on the academy’s journal. He is a member of the American Board of Ophthalmology’s Exam Development Committee and is part of the Scientific Review Committee for Fight for Sight, Inc.   Dr. Brooks is an honored educator and is an associate examiner for the American Board of Ophthalmology.   We are delighted to welcome Dr. Brooks as the clinical co-director of the VDI!  


$3 million dollar NEI grant

(from left) Drs. Xingjun Fan, Sylvia Smith and Yutao Liu


$3 million National Eye Institute grant supports growth of vision research at MCG, AU

A $3 million National Eye Institute grant is enabling the critical infrastructure necessary to grow research initiatives in major vision-robbing conditions at the Medical College of Georgia and Augusta University.

The NEI center core grant, or P30 grant, comes at a time of critical development for the James and Jean Culver Vision Discovery Institute at Augusta University, and is key to the sustainability of future growth, says Dr. Sylvia Smith, chair of the MCG Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy and director of the Culver VDI. Smith, a NEI-funded retinal cell biologist, is principal investigator on the new P30 grant.

Read more of the article here

 NEI Center Core Grant for Vision Research (P30) Module 1: Visual function assessment

Module 2: Histology and Imaging  Module 3: Gene Expression and Proteomics

Dr. Pamela Martin

Dr. Pamela Martin


Dr. Pamela Martin’s laboratory has great news of a clinically-translational study that is underway.  She has received an award from Novartis to sponsor a study:  "Therapeutic potential of anti-P-selectin antibody in improving sickle cell retinopathy in mice".   

Novartis, a pharmaceutical company, has developed and obtained FDA approval for a new drug therapy crizanlizumab (Adakveo) to treat vaso-occlusive (pain) crises in patients with sickle cell disease.  They are now interested in determining whether the drug can prevent or reduce the frequency of other sickle cell-related complications.  Dr. Martin’s lab has been selected to evaluate complications associated with retina.  Congrats Dr. Martin!!

Dr. Jing Wang

Dr. Jing Wang 


Dr. Jing Wang, Assistant Research Scientist in the laboratory of Dr. Sylvia Smith, has been notified by Knights Templar Eye Foundation, Inc. of their intent to support her research proposal: “Sigma 1 Receptor: a novel therapy for Retinopathy of Prematurity.”  ROP is a blinding disease of early childhood that damages the vasculature and neurons of the retina. Thanks to collaboration and guidance from Dr. Ruth Caldwell, Dr. Wang established a model of ROP in the lab.  For her grant proposal Dr. Wang will be testing whether activation of a unique protein, Sigma 1 Receptor, can rescue the vascular disruption and loss of retinal neurons that characterize this devastating disease. Her preliminary data are quite promising and with this new grant support she will be able to continue these important studies.





Edward Alfonso

Dr. Eduardo C. Alfonso


On March 5th, 2020 the Culver VDI held its 12th annual retreat at the Ballroom on the Summerville Campus of Augusta University.  Members of senior leadership, including Dr. Gretchen Caughman, Provost; Dr. David Hess, Dean of the Medical College of Georgia and Dr. Michael Diamond, Senior VP for research, delivered remarks and offered great praise to the VDI members for their accomplishments.  Our Keith Green Lecture was presented by Dr. Eduardo C. Alfonso, MD, Chair of Ophthalmology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.  Dr. Alfonso is the Director of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and the Kathleen and Stanley Glaser Chair in Ophthalmology.  His lecture was entitled “Fungal Keratitis Update.”  The event was attended by more than 75 researchers, clinicians, trainees and staff members.  Dr. Jingwen Cai was the leader of this year’s retreat. 

Yutao Liu




Dr. David Hess acknowledged Dr. Yutao Liu's fantastic accomplishment in the Medical College of Georgia Deans Diary on June 14, 2019. Dr. Liu brings a $2.1 million dollar NIH grant to fight keratoconus.

Dr. Liu, vision scientist and human geneticist in the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy, just received a $2.1 million grant from the National Eye Institute to better understand what the disease and the gene mutations associated with it do to the cornea, which lets most of the light into our eyes so we can ultimately see. Like most of you, his long-term goals include finding better ways to treat or even prevent keratoconus and avoid results like extreme nearsightedness and double vision. He has even developed the first keratoconus mouse model to enable these studies that will also examine human corneal tissue. Like Steph Curry, Dr. Liu has great teammates like cornea specialist Dr. Amy Estes and collaborators at Duke University. Congratulations and thanks Dr. Liu and team – David Hess.

Dr. Jingwen Cai and Dr. Yutao Liu

Jingwen Cai & Dr. Yutao Liu


Dr. Abdelrahman Fouda was notified that his K99 award entitled “Role of Arginase 1 in Retinal Ischemia-Reperfusion Injury” will be supported by the NIH/NEI effective Sept. 1, 2019.  Jingwen Cai presented a seminar describing her project “The Role of Glaucoma-Related Genes in Schlemm’s Canal Endothelial Cells” on August 27, 2019. Jingwen's mentor was Dr. Yutao Liu. She successfully defended her research project to her thesis committee, which included, Dr. Mitchell Watsky, Dr. Sylvia Smith, Dr. Mark Hamrick, and Dr. Kathryn Bollinger, Dr. Xingjun Fan served as a reader for the thesis. 



Every year for the past eight years, the Richards family has provided awards to Augusta University trainees to present their research at the world’s preeminent eye conference, the ARVO annual meeting.  

The 2019 award recipients were:   • Shannon Barwick (pre-doctoral) • Dr. Luke Chang (post-doctoral)   • Dr. Zhong Chen (post-doctoral).  Congratulations to these individuals.  As ARVO 2020 was cancelled owing to COVID-19, we did not have travel awards for this year.

Drs. Mitch Watsky and Wendy Bollag

Drs. Mitchell Watsky & Wendy Bollag


Drs. Mitchell Watsky and Wendy Bollag received the notice of award for their RO1 grant from National Institutes of Health, “Phosphatidylglycerol as a Therapy for Corneal Injury.
A Founda

Dr. Abdelrahman Fouda


Dr. Abdelrahman Fouda was notified that his K99 award entitled “Role of Arginase 1 in Retinal Ischemia-Reperfusion Injury” will be supported by the NIH/NEI effective Sept. 1, 2019.

Dr. Kevin Halenda

Dr. Kevin Halenda


Dr. Kevin Halenda has made it to the TOP 10 of the Ophthalmology Times Resident Writer Awards Program.  His topic is “Dirty Laundry: Detergent Pod Ocular Burns Among Pediatric Patients”
Dr. Jonathan Shader

Dr. Jonathan Shader 


Dr. Jonathan Shader attended the COS (Christian Ophthalmology Society) conference in Kansas City recently and was awarded 1st Place Winner for the Super Bowl of Grand Rounds, his topic was “Black Ink Tattoo Associated Uveitis
Auri Research

AURI Research Awards


It is our distinct honor to announce that two of our Culver VDI members were recognized at the AURI research awards ceremony held October 18, 2019!  Dr. Ruth B. Caldwell and Dr. William Caldwell were presented the Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of their outstanding contributions to research at our university for more than 30 years.  They were commended for their sustained contributions to the fields of arginase biology as well as retinal vascular biology.

This, in itself is notable, but perhaps their greatest legacy lies in their outstanding mentorship of so many scientists!  These individuals have gone on to establish their own successful laboratories.


Dr. Barbara Mysona


We are delighted to announce that Dr. Barbara Mysona has been notified that her pilot grant “Role of brain astrocytes in von Hippel-Lindau disease” has been selected for funding by the Von Hippel-Lindau Alliance organization.   We look forward to learning about her findings in this understudied area!  Dr. Mysona works with Dr. K. Bollinger and is an assistant research scientist in the department of cellular biology and anatomy.
Wendy Bollag

Dr. Wendy Bollag


We are very pleased to announce that Culver VDI researcher, Dr. Wendy Bollag, was recognized on October 18, 2019 with the Distinguished Research Award from Augusta University Research Institute.  This award is presented to faculty who excel in research, demonstrated outstanding leadership and mentoring.  Dr. Bollag has contributed substantively to our knowledge of cell signaling that regulates epithelial function in skin and has brought that expertise to studies of the cornea.  She is the director of the office of post-doctoral affairs and is highly regarded for her mentoring of many graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and fellow faculty. 

American Heart Association


Pre- and post-doctoral fellowships from the American Heart Association were awarded to Ammar Abdelrahman, Rebekah Tritz and Dr. Fouda Abdelrahman, who were mentored respectively by Dr. Pamela Martin, Dr. Brian Stansfield and Dr. Ruth Caldwell. An AHA career development award was made to Dr. Ahmed Ibrahim, mentored by Dr. Mohamed Al-Shabrawey.
Drs. Luke Chang and Wendy Bollag

Dr. Luke Chang


Luke Chang, M.D, an ophthalmology resident working with Dr. Wendy Bollag, won first place in the resident abstract/oral presentation competition at the Richmond County Medical Society.
Dr. Ming Zhang

Dr. Ming Zhang


Dr. Ming Zhang, Assistant Professor, Department Cellular Biology and Anatomy has been granted a BrightFocus Foundation Macular Degeneration Research award for “The role of cytomegalovirus in the development of neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD),” which began July 1, 2019.
Mohamed Al-Shabrawey

Dr. Mohamed Al-Shabrawey


Dr. Mohamed Al-Shabrawey, Professor of oral biology and diagnostic sciences, received the 2019 Dental College of Georgia Outstanding Faculty Award at the Augusta University Spring Faculty Assembly, along with faculty honorees from the other colleges.  He was elected by his peers in a competitive voting process, with 80% of faculty participating.

announcement image

Mariam Lofty Khaled

PhD Candidate  

Congratulations go to Ph.D. candidate, Mariam Lofty Khaled, from the laboratory of Dr. Yutao Liu, for successfully defending her thesis, “In search of genetic mutations for familial keratoconus.” 
ann. pic

Soumya Navneet

PhD Candidate

Congratulations also go to Ph.D. candidate Soumya Navneet, from the laboratory of Dr. Sylvia Smith, for successfully defending her thesis, “Neuron-glia interaction and role of NRF2 in hyperhomocysteinemic retina.”  These two students graduated in May 2019.