Grateful patient donates $6.5 million to Shiley Eye Center

Doctors perform eye surgery in an operating room at Shiley Eye Center Wednesday. The center recently received a $6.5 million gift to help establish a new stem cell research laboratory.

A $6.5 million donation from an unnamed patient will help the Shiley Eye Center at UC San Diego strengthen its focus on stem cells, which hold the promise of repairing damage done by diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Dr. Robert Weinreb, the centers director and a widely-published glaucoma researcher, said hes conducting a worldwide search for stem cell scientists to come to Shiley, which last year ranked fourth in National Institutes of Health funding among ophthalmology research centers nationwide.

Stem cells are known for their ability to transform themselves into nearly any other type of cell in the body, and scientists are exploring ways to use this Rosetta stone of biology to repair damage caused by cancer, diabetes and a range of other diseases.

Theres also huge potential for stem cells and the human eye.

Were going to use the stem cells to treat retinal diseases including macular degeneration, to rescue the optic nerve in glaucoma, as well as to replace the diseased layers of the cornea in patients with blinding corneal diseases, Weinreb said.

Vision loss is a growing problem as more and more baby boomers reach retirement age.

Paul Kelly, 83, undergoes a test that measures the curvature of his corneas Wednesday at Shiley Eye Center in La Jolla.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said about 1.8 million Americans have advanced age-related macular degeneration and projects that number to soar to 2.9 million by 2020. In addition, the incidence of glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy is expected to grow significantly in the same time frame.

But theres hope.

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Grateful patient donates $6.5 million to Shiley Eye Center

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