If you’ve had your eyes examined by an optometrist in Texas, chances are that person graduated from the University of Houston. Two out of every three optometrists in Texas graduated from the UH College of Optometry.
“The college of optometry here at the UH is the only college of optometry in a state-supported institution,” said Dr. Earl Smith, professor and dean of the college. “Our primary purpose is to educate optometrist to provide eye care to the citizens of Texas, and we’re very proud of our heritage here.”
The college opened its doors in 1952. It is now ranked #2 in the country in funding from the National Institutes of Health and National Eye Institute. Smith says faculty work on the cutting edge of visual science.
“Our faculty are making contributions that will reduce the burden of disease in a number of different areas,” he said. “Everything from science on basic cell types and cell manipulations, to physics and psycho-physics and behavior. They cut across very large swaths of science to make the vision better for human patients.”
To that end, Smith recently was awarded the prestigious Charles F. Prentice Medal Award from the American Academy of Optometry (AAO). The honor is awarded annually to an outstanding scientist who has contributed significantly to the advancement of knowledge through research in the visual sciences, and is the highest distinction given by the AAO. Smith’s research pursues new approaches to treating and slowing the progression of myopia.
“We’ve made a relatively novel discovery that central vision does contribute, but the peripheral eye, peripheral vision or side vision, actually dominates the control of eye growth,” Smith said. “This means that we may be able to design lenses that provide optimal central vision, optimal visual acuity, so that you can see and read exceedingly well, but the peripheral design of the lenses would produce optical changes out to your side vision that could potentially control the way the eye grows.”
In clinical trials now, lenses may be ready for the public in a few years.
“We’ve worked very hard to demonstrate to the world that we are at the cutting edge of vision science here,” he said.
Visual science is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston. I’m Marisa Ramirez.
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