NIH Awards UR Eye Institute $2.6M for Building Expansion

February 26, 2004

"The honor is a tribute to our existing research programs funded by NIH."

The University of Rochester Eye Institute has been awarded a $2.6 million construction grant by the National Institutes of Health for a building expansion that will increase research laboratory space and create more room for its fast-growing faculty group.

The prestigious grant, believed to be only the third million-dollar grant of its kind awarded to the University of Rochester Medical Center, will be combined with matching funds supplied by the medical center. Previous NIH building grants were awarded to the Department of Ophthalmology in 1983 and the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center in 1979.

Construction of the $5.5 million research project will begin this fall, says Steven E. Feldon, M.D., M.B.A., director of the University of Rochester Eye Institute. The project corresponds with additional new construction that began last month, a separate $3.5 million project that will nearly triple the square footage of the Eye Institute’s clinical areas and provide space for the addition of leading-edge ophthalmic technology.

The projects will allow the size of the Eye Institute’s clinical area at the medical center to increase from its current 7,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet, and its total research area to increase from 7,000 square feet to 25,000 square feet.

The new research space funded by the NIH grant will be located on the basement, ground and first floor levels of the current James P. Wilmot Cancer Center on Crittenden Boulevard. A third-floor clinical addition being constructed above the cancer center, adjacent to the current Eye Institute clinical area, will include public space, offices, conference rooms, additional exam lanes and a new pediatric area. Eye Institute faculty also will move into existing space on the first floor occupied now by cancer research laboratories. Eventually the ground floor will house the refractive surgery practice, oculoplastic cosmetic surgery and an optical shop.

Since Feldon arrived in October 2001 to serve as director, he has increased the size of the Eye Institute faculty and the department’s annual research dollars, and ensured the Eye Institute will have additional space in which to treat patients and conduct research.

He considers the NIH grant another acknowledgment that the University of Rochester Eye Institute is fast on its way to becoming one of the top 10 eye institutes in the U.S.

“We are on course to become a major center for patient care, research, education and technology transfer, with the ability to provide the most comprehensive array of services in upstate New York,” Feldon says. “These building projects, with significant support from NIH and medical center administration, will help us further augment our infrastructure and make more space available for clinical and research endeavors, in addition to more specialists and the latest technology.”

In the past two years, the Eye Institute has gone from five clinicians to its current 13, increasing the number of surgeries from 498 performed in fiscal year 2002 to 855 performed in fiscal year 2003, an increase of 72 percent. A pediatric ophthalmologist is now on staff, further expanding the range of patients served by the Eye Institute. Within the next 18 months, four clinicians will be added in the specialty areas of uveitis, glaucoma and cornea. All of the new faculty members conduct research as well as care for patients, part of the strategy of translational research enhanced by Feldon’s arrival.

Under his direction, the Eye Institute has been successful in securing research dollars. From May 2002 through November 2003, the department was approved for $5.1 million in funding. Some of the most significant increases occurred in the areas of physiological optics, orbital inflammatory disease and glaucoma.

The increase in faculty, coupled with the addition of various new technologies – such as multifocal ERG (electroretinography), which records the action currents of the retina using a visual or light stimuli, and OCT (optical coherence tomography), which looks at the individual layers of the retina – have caused an “explosion” in activity, according to Feldon, which requires more space be created for the Eye Institute.

Approval from NIH for the esteemed construction grant is a competitive process. Building grants are awarded primarily to existing NIH-funded research facilities to improve or expand programs already supported by the federal agency. This year, NIH considered 122 grants from numerous fields of medicine and awarded 41. The University of Rochester was in the top 10 percent of applications.

“The honor is a tribute to our existing research programs funded by NIH,” Feldon says. “Our institute is particularly unique because of its commitment to translational research and our relationship with the University of Rochester’s world-renowned Center for Visual Science, strengths recognized by NIH.”

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