David J. Calkins, PhD
David J. Calkins, PhD
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

David J. Calkins, PhD is one of the world’s leading authorities on the neurobiological roots of blinding eye disease and identification of new therapeutic targets based on neuronal protection, repair, and regeneration. Dr. Calkins has chosen to take a broad and systems-oriented approach to understanding retinal and optic nerve degeneration. His research has introduced multiple paradigms into pathogenic mechanisms of progression in glaucomatous optic neuropathy – or glaucoma, the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness. He and his research team have painstakingly pursued new discoveries to uncover the most important neuronal, glial, and synaptic relationships that define progression of neurodegeneration in glaucoma. For his research contributions, he has been awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Neuroscience Fellowship, the Lewis Rudin Glaucoma Prize of The New York Academy of Medicine, and the Wasserman, Senior Scientific, and Stein Innovation Awards from Research to Prevent Blindness. In 2016, he was named a Gold Fellow of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology for his contributions to the vision research community. He recently was given the Presidential Glaucoma Award from Glaucoma Research Foundation for his seminal research contributions. He was also an inaugural awardee of the Stanley Cohen Innovation Fund at Vanderbilt.

Dr. Calkins completed undergraduate studies in mathematics at the University of Michigan Honors College, followed by doctoral work in neuroscience from the University of Pennsylvania. Following postdoctoral fellowships at the Max Plank Institute for Brain Research and the Johns Hopkins University Krieger Mind-Brain Institute, he became faculty at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Center for Visual Science, where he continued his studies of retinal and optic nerve circuitry related to vision. He joined Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2004 and was promoted to Professor in 2011. He has written over 100 research articles, reviews, and book chapters, including key publications in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature, Science Translational Medicine, Progress in Retinal and Eye Research, Molecular Neurodegeneration, and Cell Death and Disease.  He also has held numerous editorial positions for neurology, ophthalmology, and neuroscience journals. Over the years, his innovative research has garnered over 70 grants and contracts from the National Institutes of Health, industry partners in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and private foundations.

Dr. Calkins is committed to service in the biomedical community. He has chaired numerous National Institutes of Health study sections and regularly reviews training grants, center grants, and program projects for several federal agencies. He has had leadership roles for many service committees in the ophthalmology and neuroscience research communities and regularly reviews fellowships and pilot grants for several not-for-profit organizations. He is a founding member and past president of the AUPO Research Directors Council. He recently served as Chair of the Glaucoma Research Foundation’s Catalyst for a Cure Initiative to regenerate the optic nerve and is a scientific advisor for several biotech and pharmaceutical companies across the world.


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