Optometry student awarded F30 research grant – first in program history – UAB News

Caleb Jones Fortmann 550 x 413 pxA Vision Science Graduate Program student in the UAB School of Optometry has received an F30 NIH grant, marking the first of its kind to be awarded in the program history. Seth D. Fortmann, a dual degree M.D./Ph.D. student enrolled in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Vision Science Graduate Program, has been awarded an F30 research grant from the National Institute of Health’s National Eye Institute.
The total grant amount is $208,840 and marks the first time in the UAB School of Optometry history that a VSGP student has been awarded an F30 grant.
“Having an M.D./Ph.D. student as part of our Vision Science Graduate Program is already a special advantage,” said Lawrence Sincich, Ph.D., director of the VSGP. “Mr. Fortmann’s success with this predoctoral award from NEI adds so much more. It showcases the quality of our students and the national prestige of our training program.” 
Fortmann’s research is focused on the molecular mechanisms that underly prevalent retinal diseases, specifically age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. His research is conducted in the lab of UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine professor Maria Grant, M.D., who serves as his research adviser.
Through a collaboration with the Advancing Sight Network in Birmingham, Fortmann has access to human donor eyes, which provides the opportunity to study the disease firsthand.
Using transcriptomics, his research team has identified a potential disease mechanism in age-related macular degeneration involving the macrophages that reside in the vascular bed directly behind the retina.
“My passion for research is founded on the opportunity to expand our understanding of disease mechanisms as a means to develop superior treatments that improve patient outcomes,” Fortmann said. 
His hope is that the research identifies novel therapeutic targets for age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.