UB's Ira G. Ross Eye Institute Opens on Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus

By Lois Baker

Release Date: November 1, 2007

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The new home of the University at Buffalo's Ira G. Ross Eye Institute -- a collaboration of the Department of Ophthalmology in UB's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, the Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted, M.D., Center for the Visually Impaired and University Ophthalmology Services -- opened today at 1176 Main Street.

The institute, located on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, is an integral part of the university's major initiative to create a more vibrant presence in downtown Buffalo as it grows by 40 percent between now and the year 2020.

The institute is dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of adults and children with diseases of the eye and the vision system. While its research component will be located on UB's South (Main Street) Campus, patient care and training of physicians will take place at 1176 Main St. That work will be overseen by faculty in the university's Department of Ophthalmology who constitute University Ophthalmology Services, a practice plan that is part of UBMD.

The adjacent Olmsted Center, to which the institute is physically linked, provides vision services, rehabilitation, job training and social services for those with visual disabilities.

The close collaboration between the institute and the center will make it possible to meet the needs of the visually impaired "from cradle to grave" at one location, an approach to vision care thought to be unique in the U.S.

"We believe this is one of the first true collaborations between a medical school department and a social-service agency," said James D. Reynolds, M.D., professor and chair of the UB Department of Ophthalmology, who heads the institute. "Our work will span the entire spectrum of vision care, from community medicine to high-powered research."

In a program marking the opening of the institute, he noted: "This arrangement opens up a new world of possibilities for clinical research," citing as examples potential studies of rehabilitation protocols and the causes of macular degeneration.

The institute would not have been possible without the vision and philanthropic leadership of Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted Ross, M.D., a 1939 graduate of UB's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, who died in September. An ophthalmologist and nationally renowned champion for the blind and visually impaired, she offered a $3 million challenge grant to UB in 2003 to establish the Ira G. Ross Eye Institute, and subsequently followed up with an additional $1 million challenge grant. Olmsted Ross provided a major gift to the Blind Association of Western New York in 1999 to renovate its facility, which now bears her name.

The institute is named in honor of her late husband, Ira G. Ross, who was an innovative scientist and engineer responsible for establishing aerodynamic and in-flight simulation techniques that still are used in testing commercial and military aircraft. He was head of Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, which became Calspan and is now Veridian.

Olmsted Ross' challenges were met through additional major gifts, including $1.2 million from the John R. Oishei Foundation; $400,000 from the Lions Club of Western New York, which is funding the institute's cutting-edge diagnostic technology; $1 million from the New York State Senate; $225,000 from the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation; $220,000 from Research to Prevent Blindness; and $150,000 from the Cummings Foundation. The City of Buffalo has provided $300,000 to enable the final completion of the project.

"The Ira G. Ross Eye Institute is destined to be a leading center of its kind, and a model for medical research and clinical care," UB President John B. Simpson said at the institute's grand opening program. "The vision behind this center brings community outreach, patient care and leading-edge medical research together in innovative ways.

"For UB, the Ross Eye Institute represents a very significant extension of our longstanding commitment to groundbreaking research with a far-reaching public impact," Simpson noted. "For our Western New York community and for the patients it serves within and beyond our region, the institute represents access to the most advanced clinical research, diagnosis and treatment available.

"There is really no distinction between those two outcomes," he added. "The future of our university and our community are really one and the same."

Praising Olmsted Ross' philanthropic leadership, Simpson noted that her vision for the institute "is perfectly aligned with the vision that guides UB as a public research university: a vision of excellence that is grounded in our commitment to improving the quality of life for people in our region and beyond. We are deeply grateful for her leadership in advancing this critical university mission."

Michael E. Cain, dean of the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, described the Ira G. Ross Eye Institute as "an excellent example of the three interwoven aspects of a strong medical school -- medical research, teaching and clinical care.  

"Dr. Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted Ross knew well the importance of high-quality facilities for research and teaching, and she thought carefully about the location of a clinical site for patients with eye disease," he noted. "Her determination to locate this significant medical resource in downtown Buffalo is a testament to her lifelong support of her community and, in recent years, to her commitment to the medical school and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

"The Ross Eye Institute simply would not have come to fruition without Dr. Olmsted Ross' vision and philanthropy," Cain added. "Today we recognize the results of her bold leadership and unflappable spirit -- and what she has made possible for generations of medical researchers and students and the patients who will ultimately benefit from their research and care."

State Sen. Dale M. Volker, whose initiative led in 2006 to the UB medical school receiving $1 million in state funding to complete a $9 million campaign for the institute, said that in its new, accessible location on Main Street in downtown Buffalo, "the Ross Eye Institute will have a significantly positive impact on the neighborhood, while being located ideally to provide care for Buffalo's underserved populations. It has been rewarding for me to play a role in making this project become a reality and part of UB's growing investment in downtown Buffalo."

Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown presented Simpson and Reynolds with a check for $300,000, representing the city's commitment to the project.

"The opening of the Ira G. Ross Eye Institute is another important addition to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which continues to evolve and fulfill its promise of contributing positively to Buffalo's growing health-care corridor," Brown said.

"I commend President Simpson and the University at Buffalo for continuing to expand and strengthen the university's presence in the medical campus, as well as elsewhere in Buffalo. The institute will play an important role in the diagnosis and treatment of adults and children with diseases affecting their vision."

The new, two-story home of the Ira G. Ross Eye Institute is located in newly created space in the Louis Engel, Jr., Building, which originally housed Engel's Studebaker truck and auto dealership and in more recent times was the home to another auto dealership.

The first floor contains a large reception area and adjacent eye-wear center, the Lions Diagnostic Center, several state-of-the art imaging and diagnostic facilities, 12 exam rooms, laser and minor surgery areas, plus faculty offices and a conference room.

The second floor pediatric reception area contains video game stations and other amusements for children, eight exam rooms, a pathology lab and a surgical lab used for resident training, and computer stations plus offices and conference rooms.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.