New York, NY – May 2001 – The Department of Ophthalmology at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons has received three gifts totaling $5.5 million from the Louis V. Gerstner Foundation, Russ and Angelica Berrie, and the Starr Foundation to establish a center dedicated to translating biomedical discoveries into successful treatments for vision disorders. The Louis V. Gerstner Jr. Clinical Research Center in Vision will be a comprehensive program focusing on developing effective solutions to vision problems that threaten the sight of millions in the United States and worldwide. Major components of the center will be the Russell Berrie Diabetic Retinopathy Research Unit and the Starr Foundation Retina Research Unit.
“The need to develop new strategies for saving vision is all the more critical because the prevalence of eye disease is growing in an increasingly aging population,” says Stanley Chang, M.D., Edward S. Harkness Professor of Ophthalmology, chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology, and director of the new Gerstner Center. Estimates show that approximately half of those over the age of 70 will need cataract surgery, and a staggering 21 million Americans – one third of those over age 70 – are at risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. Other serious disorders like glaucoma, which impairs the vision of as many as 2 million people, and diabetic retinopathy, which causes 8,000 new cases of blindness annually, also become more common as people age.
According to Dr. Chang, the Gerstner Center will offer a multi-pronged approach to the treatment of human disease, identifying at-risk patients and populations, facilitating gene-targeted pharmaceutical development, and making the use of gene therapy possible.
The Russell Berrie Diabetic Retinopathy Research Unit will work closely with the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University to increase research in diabetic retinopathy and improve current facilities and equipment. The Berrie Family Diabetic Retinopathy Program, made possible by an additional $5 million gift, will establish a model eye care program for patients of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, recruit a basic scientist, construct the Russ and Angelica Berrie Diabetic Retinopathy Research Laboratory, and provide support for outreach and screening programs.
The Starr Retinal Research Unit will focus on age-related macular degeneration and myopia. Projects will include the identification of genes causing or predisposing individuals to the development of macular degeneration and development of new methods for prevention and treatment of the disease. Located within the Department of Ophthalmology at the Edward S. Harkness Eye Institute at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, the Gerstner Center will look for international and regional collaboration on projects whenever possible.
The Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center (www.nbdiabetes.org) is named after Berrie’s mother who, like her son, had diabetes. It was established in July 1997 and combines unprecedented family-centered patient care and education with world-class diabetes research programs. Located at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, the center hosts a renowned team of adult and pediatric diabetes experts, which include endocrinologists, educators, family counselors, nutritionists, podiatrists, and ophthalmologists.
Columbia University’s Department of Ophthalmology is recognized worldwide for advancing eye care through scientific discovery. The first to use lasers in medicine, Columbia eye specialists also helped to develop key instrumentation for a more precise diagnosis of vision disorders, including the specular microscope and ultrasound, and were the first to use eximer lasers to correct nearsightedness and astigmatism. Columbia ophthalmologists developed and pioneered the use of perflourocarbon liquids for correcting complex retinal detachment, the substance Healon that is used worldwide to protect delicate tissue in the eye during surgery, and latanoprost, one of the most widely used drugs for treating glaucoma.
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