The Ocular Surface Institute, or TOSI (pronounced as “To See“), is the leading ocular surface institute in the United States, with the goal of broadening translational research in ocular surface health. Over the years, the University of Houston, College of Optometry (UHCO) has shown a dedicated commitment to the pursuit of research across multiple aspects of vision science. In 2012, the opening of the Vision Institute located at the University of Houston Health & Biomedical Sciences Building, has provided the opportunity to advance ocular research with state of the art technology in a modern setting that is designed to facilitate collaborations across multiple disciplines. It is TOSI‘s goal to develop the world‘s broadest and most visionary research institute devoted to ocular surface translational research.

Read Our Dean's Words

Executive Committee

Alison McDermott Ph.D.

Scientific Director, The Ocular Surface Institute
Golden-Golden Professor, UHCO

Dr. Alison McDermott is the Scientific Director of TOSI. Dr. McDermott received her Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from the University of Surrey, in Guildford, UK and her PhD, also in biochemistry, from Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London, UK. She then joined the lab of Dr. Geoffrey Sharp at Cornell University in Ithaca in upstate New York. After three years at Cornell studying intracellular signaling pathways she then moved a little west to work with Dr. Richard Haslam at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Here she further pursued her interest in signaling proteins. The next move was further west, to the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Here she joined the lab of veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Christopher Murphy and so began her career in eye research. The most recent move (although this was back in 1998) brought her south to the University of Houston where she has an active federally funded research lab and teaches various courses to both professional students of optometry and graduate students.
The primary goal of her research program is to gain a better understanding of the ocular surface epithelia at the cellular and molecular level which will lead to treatment strategies for ocular surface inflammatory, infectious disease and wound healing following injury and refractive surgery. The major focus of her research is to investigate the functions of antimicrobial peptides such as defensins and cathelicidin at the ocular surface, in addition to the role of inflammation in the pathogenesis of dry eye and characteristics of corneal keratocytes and their repair phenotypes. Her NIH funded research employs cell and molecular techniques and murine models to investigate both the direct antimicrobial and immunomodulatory properties of antimicrobial peptides at the ocular surface.

Kelly K. Nichols, O.D., MPH, Ph.D., FAAO

TOSI Advisory Board
Adjunct Professor, UHCO

Dr. Kelly Nichols has over 15 years of experience in ocular surface research with an emphasis on the assessment and management of dry eye disease, meibomian gland dysfunction, and ocular allergy. She received her undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of California, San Diego and her Doctor of Optometry degree from the University of California, Berkeley, followed by a residency in ocular disease at Omni Eye Specialists of Colorado. As a buckeye, Dr. Nichols completed a Master‘s degree in Public Health and a PhD in Physiological Optics at The Ohio State University. On faculty at OSU from 2000-2011, Dr. Nichols received two NIH-funded grants to study dry eye in postmenopausal women and numerous industry-sponsored grants/ projects. She is currently on the steering committee of an NIH-funded planning to assess omega fatty acid supplementation in dry eye. Primary research interests include investigational dry eye medications, dry eye diagnostics, cross-disciplinary tear proteomics and lipidomics. Dr. was recently appointed Dean of Optometry University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Dr. Nichols has been extensively involved in professional organizations including the AOA, OOA, and the APHA. She serves as medical advisor to the Sjogren‘s Syndrome Foundation and is an elected member of the governing board of the Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society as well as a founding member of the Ocular Surface Society of Optometry. She is on the editorial board of The Ocular Surface, Refractive Eyecare, and Optometry and Vision Science. Dr. Nichols lectures and writes extensively on dry eye, contact lenses, diabetes and public health, and women‘s health issues.

Jason J. Nichols, O.D., MPH, Ph.D., FAAO

TOSI Advisory Board Adjunct Professor, UHCO
Editor, Contact Lens Spectrum and Contact Lenses Today

Trained as a clinician-scientist, Dr. Nichols has been affiliated with over 100 clinical studies and trials associated with the anterior segment. He has a particular interest in developing non-invasive optical methodologies associated with understanding tear film and ocular surface structure in-vivo, in addition to pairing these technologies with basic laboratory techniques to try to correlate function with structure. He also has research interests in technology development, specifically as it relates to both devices and pharmaceuticals including things such as care solutions, artificial tears, and treatments for dry eye and meibomian gland disease. Dr. Jason Nichols was appointed the Kevin McDaid Vision Source Professor at the University of Houston College of Optometry in 2011. He received his undergraduate degree in Biology from Hope College (1995), and Doctor of Optometry (1999), Master‘s in Public Health (2003, epidemiology) and PhD (2004) all from the Ohio State University. He was on the faculty at Ohio State University between 2004-11 where he was an associate professor with tenure. Dr. Nichols was recently appointed to the faculty of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Dr. Nichols has trained numerous graduate students and fellows, and has received research funding from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health to study dry eye diseases including meibomian gland disease, dry eye and contact lens-related dry eye. He has also received funding from the American Optometric Foundation, in addition to a variety of industrial partners. He has authored over 80 peer-reviewed manuscripts and 150 abstracts on these topics. He is currently Editor of Contact Lens Spectrum and Contact Lenses Today®, whose publications reach over 50,000 eyecare practitioners worldwide. Dr. Nichols also serves on the editorial board for Eye and Contact Lens. He is also a diplomate in the American Academy of Optometry‘s (AAO) sections of Public Health and Environmental Optometry and Cornea, Contact Lenses, and Refractive Technology and is Chair of the AAO‘s Research Committee . He is also Chair of the Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society‘s Medical and Scientific Advisory Board and International Workshop on Contact Lens Discomfort. He writes and lectures extensively on contact lenses and ocular surface conditions such as dry eye and meibomian gland disease.

Faculty Affiliates

Guoting Qin, PhD

Research Assistant Professor

Dr. Guoting Qin received her bachelor's degree in Chemistry in 2002 from the University of Science and Technology of China, and her PhD in 2007 from the University of Houston working on surface biofunctionalization, especially with antimicrobial peptides and carbohydrates. She then spent six years at Houston Methodist Research Institute at the Texas Medical Center, where her research focused on nano- /micro- particle-based imaging and drug delivery systems.

Dr. Qin's current research interests are to apply biomaterials, nanotechnology, and chemistry to address problems related to the ocular surface, such as infection, meibomian gland dysfunction, and contact lens discomfort.

David Berntsen, O.D., Ph.D., FAAO

Assistant Professor, UHCO

Dr. David Berntsen‘s research interests include juvenile-onset myopia, contact lenses, and both central and peripheral aberrations of the eye. He completed a Cornea and Contact Lens Advanced Practice Fellowship in 2004 at The Ohio State University where he examined the effects of overnight orthokeratology on higher-order aberrations, visual acuity, and refractive error-specific quality of life. He completed a PhD in Vision Science in 2009 at The Ohio State University where he conducted a randomized clinical trial evaluating current theories of myopia progression in children. His PhD training included a strong background in epidemiology and clinical trials methodology. Dr. Berntsen has been involved in multiple other adult and pediatric studies in the areas of contact lenses, dry eye, and higher-order aberrations of the eye.

Daniel Powell, OD, PhD

Research Assistant Professor, UHCO

Daniel Powell, OD PhD joined the College of Optometry faculty in 2013. In 1995, he received his Doctor of Optometry degree from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. Dr. Powell practiced in Washington State following completion of a medical-based eye care residency in Reno, Nevada. He relocated to Columbus, Ohio in 2007 to obtain his Master of Science (2011) and Doctor of Philosophy (2013) degrees from The Ohio State University. While at Ohio State, Dr. Powell served as a Clinical Instructor, was awarded the Beta Sigma Kappa Research Fellowship, and was a two-time recipient of the William C. Ezell Fellowship.

Dr. Powell's teaching interests include the areas of human anatomy and physiology. His research investigates the roles that environmental influences may have on ocular surface health, most notably in common conditions like dry eye. He has served as a co-investigator or key personnel on several industry and government-sponsored dry eye and contact lens-based research projects. Dr. Powell also has served as a manuscript reviewer for several prominent vision science-based professional journals.

Alan R. Burns, Ph.D.

Professor, UHCO

Dr. Alan Burns is a Professor with 40 years experience in cell biology and microscopic imaging. During the past seven years, his research program has centered on the cornea. The location of the cornea makes it vulnerable to traumatic injury, either accidental or as a result of surgery. Healing of corneal wounds is of vital importance, not only to ensure the integrity of the eye but also to maintain the best possible visual acuity. The mechanisms regulating healing after corneal injury are not fully understood. Migration of inflammatory cells to the site of corneal injury appears to be beneficial for wound healing. Inhibition of inflammatory cell migration results in impaired wound healing, and decreased growth of specific cells in the cornea (keratocytes, nerves and epithelial cells). His experiments are designed to understand the mechanisms regulating inflammation and wound healing within the injured cornea.

Chengzhi Cai, PhD

Professor, UH Department of Chemistry

Dr. Chengzhi Cai is a Professor at the University of Houston‘s Department of Chemistry. He serves as the Director for Mass Spectrometry Laboratory and the Co-Directer for Chemical Biology Interdisciplinary Program at UH. He completed his PhD in Chemistry at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH-Zurich) in 1996, followed by postdoctoral training at the Institute of Quantum Electronics, also at ETH-Zurich. His research involves organic synthesis, antimicrobial peptides, bacterial biofilms, organic thin films, surface functionalization and nanochemistry. In addition to the fundamental studies, he also work with collaborators to solve significant biological and biomedical problems of interest, particularly related to ocular surface diseases and novel approaches to characterizing, altering or developing contact lens polymers, and prevention of pathogenic biofilm formation.

Samuel Hanlon, O.D., PhD, M.S., FAAO

Research Associate Professor, UHCO

Since graduating from the Southern California College of Optometry (SCCO) in 1977, Dr. Hanlon has earned a master of science in higher education degree and a PhD in physiological optics. From 1999 to 2012 he served as a full-time clinical associate professor at the University of Houston, College of Optometry (UHCO) teaching clinical procedures laboratories and serving as a clinical attending in family practice. Prior to his appointment at UHCO, Dr. Hanlon was in private practice in the state of Washington four years, an instructor at SCCO for six years, chief of the eye clinic at an HMO on Guam for nine years, assistant professor and department chair at Southern College of Optometry for three years. After receiving his PhD in May of 2012, he has worked as a research associated professor at UHCO. His research includes in vivo and histological animal studies related to corneal inflammation and wound healing, as well as meibomian gland dysfunction and contact lens-related inflammatory events.

Jason Marsack, PhD

Assistant Professor, UHCO

Dr. Jason Marsack received a BS in Computer Engineering from Texas A&M University, a MS in Biomedical Engineering from The University of Texas, and a PhD in Physiological Optics and Vision Science from The University of Houston, College of Optometry. His primary research project centers on investigation of optical and visual performance associated with custom corrections for highly aberrated keratoconic eyes. His research interests include characterizing optical aberration of normal and pathological eyes, custom and pseudo-custom correction of optical aberration, visual performance, metrics of optical quality and the use of contact lenses as drug delivery vehicles.

Jessica Mathew, OD, PhD

Research Assistant Professor, UHCO

Dr. Jessica H. Mathew obtained both her Doctor of Optometry degree (2005) and her PhD in Vision Science (2010) at the University of Houston College of Optometry. She then completed a Cornea and Contact Lens Research Fellowship at the University of Houston in 2011. Dr. Mathew is certified in Texas as an Optometric Glaucoma Specialist. She is a guest lecturer in the Ocular Anatomy and Physiology Course to first year students and also manages patients with severe corneal distortions (complex corneal conditions) who require specialty contact lenses. She is a member of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Optometry and is also a former William C. Ezell Fellow.

Dr. Mathew‘s research focus is on understanding the histopathology of keratoconus, including studying structural and cellular changes in order to explain the disease process. Recently she has taken an interest in using an immunohistochemical approach in order to better understand these aspects and their clinical implications. Dr. Mathew is also involved in clinical trial research as an investigator for The Ocular Surface Institute and the Texas Eye Research and Technology Center.

William L. Miller, OD, PhD, FAAO

Associate Professor, UHCO
Chair, Department of Clinical Sciences

Dr. William L. Miller is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Clinical Sciences Department at the University of Houston College of Optometry. He is also an adjunct professor for the Dublin Institute of Technology in Dublin, Ireland. Dr. Miller received his OD from The Ohio State University, where he also completed a combined M.S./Residency in Cornea and Contact Lens. He also earned a PhD in Physiological Optics at The Ohio State University. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry, a member of the American Optometric Association, European Academy of Optometry, Optometric Ocular Surface Society, Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society and International Contact Lens Educators. He is also a contributing editor for Contact Lens Spectrum and Optometric Ocular Surface Society where he writes a bimonthly treatment column and monthly research column respectively. He is also editor of Contact Lens and Anterior Segment Update (CLASU) an online abstract and clinical guideline compendium which is published bimonthly. Dr. Miller lectures in both didactic and laboratory sections of the curriculum. He also proctors students in direct patient care in the College‘s Eye Institute.

Additionally, Dr. Miller conducts research with a special emphasis on tear abnormalities and effects of contact lenses and refractive surgery on the cornea. Dr. Miller‘s research interests involve the effects of contact lens and refractive surgery on the cornea. Recently, his published and presented work has focused attention in the area of tear exchange and keratoconus. He also investigates the effects of various tear supplements on the tear film using fluorophotometry and various other clinical measures.

Rachel Redfern, O.D., Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, UHCO

Dr. Rachel Redfern received her bachelor's degree in biology from Texas A&M University. She then earned her Doctor of Optometry and Ph.D. from the University of Houston, College of Optometry (UHCO) in 2005 and 2010 respectively. Dr. Redfern is a recipient of the Institutional Ruth Kirschstein National Research Post-doctorate Award and the ARVO/Alcon Early Career Clinician-Scientist Research Award. She was previously funded by National Institute of Health and her research investigates the role of toll-like receptors in the pathogenesis of dry eye syndrome and their involvement in modulating the risk for infection when the ocular surface is compromised from dry eye.

Dr. Redfern enjoys interacting with optometry and graduate students. She lectures in the General Pathology and Physiology and Molecular Biology to first year optometry students. Dr. Redfern is a member of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the American Academy of Optometry and the Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society. She is also a William C. Ezell Fellow and a reviewer for several journals including Investigative Ophthalmology and Vision Science, Public Library of Science ONE, Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, and Optometry and Vision Science.

Graduate Students/ Post-Doctoral Fellows

Alyce Alven, BS

OD/MS Candidate.
Advisor: Rachel Redfern, OD PhD

Alyce Alven is currently pursuing her OD/MS at the University of Houston College of Optometry (UHCO) with plans of pursuing her PhD when she graduates in 2016. She graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Advertising from the University of Houston in 2010 with a focus in media buying and selling. Since beginning research in 2013 with UHCO's summer research program, her primary focus has been on dry eye with Dr. Kelly Nichols and now with Dr. Rachel Redfern investigating the role of damage associated molecular patterns in stimulating dry eye inflammation in patients and ocular surface cells. As president of Student Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity, she also has participated in vision screenings, the Special Olympics, and has gone abroad to Mexico and Peru.

Kelly Moore, BS

OD/MS candidate.
Adviser: David Berntsen, OD, PhD

Kelly Moore is currently pursuing a combined OD/MS degree at the University of Houston College of Optometry. She received her B.S. at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL in Chemistry. She is conducting research on myopia progression under the direction of Dr. David Berntsen, OD, PhD, FAAO. Since the summer of 2013, she has investigated the off-axis repeatability of an instrument for measuring refractive error, and she is studying how the peripheral defocus profile of myopic eyes is influenced by spherical and multifocal soft contact lenses.

Joseph Manarang, MD, PhD

Post-Doctoral Fellow.
Supervisor: Alison McDermott, PhD

Dr. Manarang‘s research in biological systems started as early as his undergraduate education, where his bachelor‘s degree in biology paved the groundwork for higher learning in the health sciences. Pursing a medical degree has furnished Dr. Manarang with the experience and understanding to link biological research with its clinical applications. After practicing as a licensed physician in private clinics for a while, Dr. Manarang yearned for a more defined focus on the core biological sciences. He began his career in eye research when he joined the graduate program at the University of Houston College of Optometry in 2007. His interest immediately drew him to converge on cornea research in Dr. Alison McDermott‘s lab, where he was initially involved in projects performing cytotoxicity studies on cells of the ocular surface. Dr. Manarang‘s laboratory research expertise has since grown to include cell culture including acanthamoeba castellani trophozoites and cysts, RT-PCR, and various invitro killing assays, cell death and apoptosis assays, fluorescence microscopy, flow cytometry applications and live cell imaging techniques.

Rose Reins, BA

PhD Candidate.
Advisor: Alison McDermott, PhD

Rose Reins is a PhD candidate in the Cell and Molecular Biology program at University of Houston. Rose graduated with a BA Biology from Baylor University and worked as a research technician in the McDermott lab prior to becoming a graduate student in 2010. Rose‘s research interest lies in investigating the function of vitamin D at the ocular surface, with a focus on its role in modulating inflammation. Apart from her studies, Rose enjoys food and exercise and her two young daughters keep her happily busy.

Kelsea Vance, BS

OD/PhD Candidate.
Advisor: William Miller, OD PhD

Kelsea Vance is pursuing a combined OD/MS degree at the University of Houston College of Optometry. She received her Bachelors of Science at the University of Arkansas in Biology. Kelsea began research in 2014 as part of UHCO's Summer Research Program with a focus on scleral contact lenses, working with Dr. William Miller, OD, PhD. She is currently exploring the influence of post-lens tear exchange and other fitting elements in interrupted and uninterrupted scleral contact lens wearers.

Staff Members

Hasna Baidouri, BS

Lab Manager

Ms. Hasna Baidouri received her Bachelor of Science degree from Chouaib Doukkali University, El Jadida Morocco in 1995. After working as a medical technologist for two years she moved to the US and for several years worked as a research specialist studying HIV and cancer at both Lincoln University and University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. She has been laboratory manager of the McDermott lab since 2010 working on diverse projects related to antimicrobial peptides, ocular surface infection and inflammation.

Justin Courson, BA, BA


Justin Courson received his bachelor′s degree in Psychology and Brain Sciences as well as his bachelor′s degree in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) in 2011. Prior to joining The Ocular Surface Institute, he has conducted years of research on the neuroplasticity involved in addiction as a researcher in the Psychological and Brain Sciences department of UCSB. His previous research has involved topics ranging from binge drinking, methamphetamine withdrawal, changes in the chemical synapses between the neurons governing cocaine seeking behavior, genetic predisposition to addiction, as well as a myriad of addiction related studies focused on protein and receptor expression in the prefrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, as well as the central nucleus of the amygdala. In Dr. Rachel Redfern′s lab at The Ocular Surface Institute he will be focused on investigating the pathogenesis of dry eye inflammation as well as the risk of infection in dry eye-associated ocular surface damage using a murine model.

Sonia Huerta, A.A.S

Ophthalmic Technician

Mrs. Sonia Annette Huerta graduated from San Jacinto College Central with an Associate's Degree of Applied Science in Eye Care Technology. During this education she developed skills to assist optometrists and ophthalmologists in practice including pre-testing, contact lens fitting, and refraction. She gained experience by interning at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, Retina Consultants of Houston, Wooten Vision Care, Northwest Eye Associates, Plastic Eye Surgery Associates, and Safety Rx. She has volunteered for the Essilor's Kid's Vision for Life "See to Succeed" SJC Collaborative Partnership Project. She currently works to assist in administrative duties of TOSI as well as assist the research optometrists during examinations.

Satya Kolar, PhD

Research Associate

Dr. Satya Kolar obtained her M.S. in Nutrition and Biochemistry from University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY and PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Texas A&M University, College Station, TX. Satya received her MD from Bangalore University in India where she practiced as a clinician before moving to the U.S. of America.

During her PhD training her research emphasis was on the effect of n-3 PUFAs on colon carcinogenesis. She then joined the McDermott lab as a Post-doctoral Fellow and has been working on projects related to infection and immunity at the ocular surface. In addition, she has worked on projects exploring methods to enhance efficacy of antimicrobial peptides via liposomal delivery in collaboration with the Chemistry department. Her work also includes projects related to studying the efficacy of contact lens solutions against Acanthamoeba. Satya's current research focuses on investigating the role of antimicrobial peptides in bacterial and fungal keratitis.

Carolina Lema, Ph.D.

Researcher, TOSI

Dr. Carolina Lema earned her BS degree in Biochemistry from Universidad Mayor de San Andres, La Paz-Bolivia in 1994 and her PhD degree in Immunogenetics from Kagoshima University, Kagoshima-Japan in 2002. Her postdoctoral training was focused on cancer genomics and Toxicogenomics at the Houston Advanced Research Center, The Woodlands, TX. She previously worked as staff scientist at the Cell Culture and High-Throughput Screening Core Facility at the University of Texas at El Paso for five years. In February 2013, she joined Dr. Redfern‘s lab at The Ocular Surface Institute to investigate the pathogenesis of dry eye inflammation and the risk for infection in the desiccated ocular surface.