UC San Diego emerges as regional hub for eye care, research, education, community service.
Time may blur, but the first quarter-century of the Shiley Eye Center – it celebrates that anniversary this year – remains sharply defined in its accomplishments and focus on the future.
When the $8 million center debuted in 1991, launched by a $1 million leadership gift from the late philanthropist Donald Shiley and his wife, Darlene, it stood alone – quite literally. The neighboring Perlman Ambulatory Care Center (now Perlman Medical Offices) and UC San Diego Thornton Hospital were both two years from completion. More to the point, the new Shiley Eye Center represented the first institution in San Diego entirely dedicated to eye care and science.
“No other major city had been without an eye center,” said Dr. Stuart Brown, then-chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and the center’s founding director at the opening gala in 1991. “And now we will be allowed to achieve our mission and our greatest potential.”
The ambition of the Shiley team was to establish an eye center unrivaled in the region. To a remarkable degree, they have succeeded. It’s a vision that has accelerated under the current Shiley director and ophthalmology chair, Dr. Robert N. Weinreb. “The Shiley has emerged as a hub for clinical care excellence, outstanding vision research and broad-based eye health education. By investing in unsurpassed facilities, equipment and brainpower, we have become a destination for preventing and curing blinding eye diseases for the residents of San Diego and beyond.” said Weinreb.
This week, Shiley expands upon that success, changing its name to the UC San Diego Donald P. and Darlene V. Shiley Eye Institute, which will encompass the Shiley Eye Center, the Anne F. and Abraham Ratner Children’s Eye Center, the Hamilton Glaucoma Center and the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Retina Center. The institute is part of the UC San Diego Health System.
“The new name more accurately captures the fullness of the work being done at Shiley,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “The institute and department of ophthalmology, working hand-in-hand with the School of Medicine and other programs across campus, will leverage every possible tool and expertise, from genetics, bioengineering and pharmacy to pathology, neurosciences and stem cell research, to improve the treatment of eye diseases, find new cures and hasten the day when blindness is entirely preventable.”
The institute will include the new Richard C. Atkinson Laboratory for Regenerative Ophthalmology, created last year with an anonymous $6.5 million gift from a grateful patient. The new lab will investigate cell replacement therapies, tissue engineering and other biomedical advances to reverse vision loss and blindness. Researchers will explore novel stem cell approaches and work closely with the Sanford Clinical Stem Cell Center at UC San Diego Health System, which was established in 2013.
Nearby, a new Vision Research Center is in the early stages of planning along with the creation of a framework to fund the project. The center is envisioned to accelerate the translation of new research into treatments for patient with blinding ophthalmic diseases.
“The center is intended to help bridge the gap between laboratory and clinic by bringing together brilliant minds and diverse talents in a shared facility,” said Weinreb. “This integrated approach will speed the transformation of discoveries into clinical applications that can be tested through clinical trials.”
If past is prologue, the future looks bright. Over the years, Shiley physicians and researchers have made major contributions to preventing and curing eye diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, corneal disorders and cataracts.
Recently, for example, they have been involved in developing an artificial retina, a smart contact lens that wirelessly monitors intraocular pressure (a key risk factor in glaucoma) and the use of self-renewing stem cells to repair or restore vision lost to diseases like macular degeneration, glaucoma and corneal opacity. They are even helping explore the possibility of whole eye transplants.
Clinical care remains a cornerstone. In 2014, there were 106,470 patient visits and 4,862 surgeries. Patients ranged in age from one day to 105 years. The Shiley Eye Mobile conducted 12,238 vision screenings, 2,011 eye exams, dispensed 1,288 pairs of free glasses and referred 107 children for more serious follow-up care.
“It was always very clear that my late husband had a special place in his heart for the Shiley Eye Center,” said Darlene Shiley. “I will never forget how moved he was by Dr. Brown’s description of the work being done and the work that still needed to be addressed. And now, decades later, Dr. Weinreb is focused on patient-centric care excellence and leading the Shiley into new areas of eye research and treatment. Successful past, bright future – how lucky we all are to have such dedicated physicians, researchers, staff and eager volunteers.”