In 1858, on the heel of the discovery of the direct ophthalmoscope, Edward Holmes opened the doors of the Chicago Charitable Eye and Ear Infirmary. Dedicated to serving the burgeoning, underserved population in the city, the institution represented one of the first in America focused on the disciplines of ophthalmology and otolaryngology.
The Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary, as it was subsequently known, grew along with the field of ophthalmology. The Infirmary created some of the first subspecialty clinics in the country, including those dedicated to glaucoma, uveitis, and ocular motility. By 1940, the Infirmary was treating up to 100,000 patients a year, including 5,000 inpatients. The Infirmary also established itself as a leader in ophthalmic research: Peter Kronfeld carried out early work on aqueous fluid; H. Saul Sugar published a seminal study on various types of glaucoma; Gholam Peyman made early contributions to LASIK, the vitrophage (disposable vitrectomy instrument), and intraocular drug delivery. In 1943, the Infirmary officially became a part of the University of Illinois at Chicago: the UIC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary.
For decades, the shared mission of vision care and research has brought together the Lions of Illinois and the UIC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. Long-lasting collaborations between the two organizations include the Glaucoma Screening Project and local eye banking endeavors. Lions Clubs throughout Illinois are instrumental in fundraising for and supporting Eversight (previously Illinois Eye Bank and Midwest Eye-Banks) and their mission to “restore sight and prevent blindness through the healing power of donation, transplantation and research”. The UIC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences also has a long history with Eversight, with UIC ophthalmology faculty serving as the first Illinois Eye-Bank Medical Director (Dr. Maurice F. Rabb in 1972), Medical Directors of Midwest Eye Banks/Eversight (Drs. Joel Sugar and Soledad Cortina) and as Medical Advisory Board members (Drs. Elmer Tu and Soledad Cortina).
The largest collaboration between the Lions of Illinois and the UIC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences began in 1977. The Lions of Illinois Foundation adopted the objective of establishing an Eye Research Institute and selected as its site the West Side Medical Center of the University of Illinois at Chicago. The Lions agreed to undertake the construction of a research building for the state to operate and maintain as a part of the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The now late Lion Norman Dahl, president of the Lions of Illinois Foundation at the time, and Dr. Morton Goldberg, who was the head of the UIC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, led the effort to build a modern facility dedicated to vision research on the UIC campus. Over the next five years, Lions Clubs throughout Illinois raised funds for building construction through grassroots efforts that yielded over $5 million – the largest single fundraising effort the Lions had ever undertaken. In 1986, the Lions of Illinois Eye Research Institute (LIERI) opened its doors.
Thanks to the commitment and fundraising efforts of the local Lions Clubs, the Lions of Illinois Eye Research Institute has grown into a vision research powerhouse. Since opening in 1986, researchers at the Lions of Illinois Eye Research Institute have obtained 138 patents, received over 150 grants, and produced over 1,500 publications. The UIC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences is ranked 7th in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding among ophthalmology departments nationwide. Today’s Lions of Illinois Eye Research Institute houses over 142 research faculty who employ the most advanced biotechnologies, from gene silencing to confocal microcosopy, to search for the underlying causes of every major eye disease—including macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
To support its ever-growing research operations, the UIC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences is planning a large-scale renovation and expansion to the Lions of Illinois Eye Research Institute. Renovation planning was initiated by the most recent Department Chairs, Dr. Dimitri Azar, Dr. Mark I. Rosenblatt and Dr. R.V. Paul Chan, and will culminate in a formal campaign launch in late 2021. The renovations will include a new auditorium, updated lab spaces, and a modernized office space for researchers and staff. State-of-the-art resources will ensure that the Lions of Illinois Eye Research Institute continues to facilitate novel experiments that push the boundaries of what we know about vision and eye disease.
In gratitude for our continuing partnership,
R.V. Paul Chan, MD, MSc, MBA, FACS
Professor and Head, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences
Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary
University of Illinois at Chicago