This year, the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute marks a decade of remarkable accomplishments in the field of ophthalmology. Founded with the support of philanthropist Gavin Herbert; a generous gift from his mother, Josephine Gleis; and major contributions by Jim and Kelly Mazzo, Julia and George Argyros, Esther and James Cavanaugh, Marsha and Bill Link, Richard P. Kratz, Geneva M. Matlock and others, this world-class medical facility has transformed the landscape of eye care in the region and beyond.
With three donor-funded surgical suites, 34 examination rooms, and a sprawling 1,500 square feet of conference and education space on UCI’s campus, the eye institute opened its doors in September 2013 under the leadership of Dr. Roger F. Steinert, the Irving H. Leopold Chair in Ophthalmology. Steinert, who pioneered new laser surgery techniques to stave off blindness and strengthen eyesight while at Harvard University, was well poised to helm the facility.
In 2014, just a year after opening, the eye institute launched the Eye Mobile for Children, which brought free vision screenings to Orange County schools. Over the past nine years, more than 25,000 children from underserved families have benefited from this program, ensuring that vision problems are identified and addressed early on.
The following year, the institute achieved a significant milestone as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration greenlighted testing of a stem cell-based therapy for retinitis pigmentosa. Developed by faculty member Dr. Henry Klassen, former faculty member Dr. Jing Yang and their colleagues, this treatment was a groundbreaking step forward in the quest to combat blinding diseases.
In 2017, Dr. Baruch Kuppermann, a widely respected figure in ophthalmology, assumed leadership of the eye institute. Succeeding the late Steinert, Kuppermann was also named to a newly endowed chair created to honor Steinert’s legacy. The facility expanded its outreach efforts the next year by partnering with the National Keratoconus Foundation, further reinforcing its commitment to educating the public about eye disorders and the importance of early detection.
The year 2018 brought a distinguished addition to the institute’s team. Internationally renowned chemist and pharmacologist Krzysztof Palczewski, Ph.D., an expert in vision illnesses, joined the staff. His arrival marked the establishment of UCI’s Center for Translational Vision Research, which seeks to integrate basic and clinical research – including genetics and pharmacology – in order to develop innovative and accessible therapies for millions robbed of their sight or progressing toward blindness.
The institute’s research efforts bore fruit in 2019 as it cracked the top 20 in National Institutes of Health funding for ophthalmology studies. With nearly $7.7 million in NIH grants, the facility was able – among other uses – to expand the multidisciplinary and collaborative work of its Center for Translational Vision Research, which was named a provisional UCI organized research unit in 2020, further enhancing its capabilities.
The following year, the eye institute launched one of the nation’s first low-vision rehabilitation programs, with the goal of helping individuals with impaired vision to regain their independence and quality of life.
In 2022, the facility again made history, becoming the second medical institution in the country, and the only one on the West Coast, to provide ocular stem cell transplants for patients with severe cornea damage. This groundbreaking procedure offers new hope to those facing vision impairment.
As the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute celebrates its 10th anniversary – with a history of expanding clinical programs, increased grant funding, major research breakthroughs and nearly double the number of people served in its first year – Kuppermann is understandably proud of its achievements.
“In 10 years, the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute has become a shining light in vision research and patient care, providing hope and healing to the people of Orange County and beyond,” he says. “The future of vision care is brighter because of the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute.”
If you want to learn more about supporting this or other activities at UCI, please visit the Brilliant Future website. Publicly launched on Oct. 4, 2019, the Brilliant Future campaign aims to raise awareness and support for UCI. By engaging 75,000 alumni and garnering $2 billion in philanthropic investment, UCI seeks to reach new heights of excellence in student success, health and wellness, research and more. The Gavin Herbert Eye Institute plays a vital role in the success of the campaign. Learn more by visiting https://secure.give.uci.edu/give-to-uci-ophthalmology.