FUTURE IN SIGHT: Rocky Mountain Eye Institute expands, makes room for research center

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AURORA | Ed Doebbeling’s eyesight was fading fast after he had cataract surgery in Fort Collins about five years ago. Concerned, Doebbeling went to see a doctor at the University of Colorado Eye Center at the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Institute in Aurora. Within 10 minutes, she gave him a diagnosis that his Fort Collins doctor did not; he had a growth on the lens of his eye that required laser surgery.

“Sure enough, she was right,” said Doebbeling, who lives near Estes Park.

Robert Frye (left), a member of the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Institute advisory committee, and Dr. Naresh Mandava (right), professor and chairman of the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology excitedly wait for a ground breaking ceremony to begin, June 28 at Anschutz Medical Campus. The Rocky Mountains Lions Eye Institute expansion project will cost about $26 million and will increase the eye center’s research and clinical space from 48,000 square feet to 135,000 square feet. The eye center will be open during construction, and the expansion should be complete by fall 2014. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)
Robert Frye (left), a member of the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Institute advisory committee, and Dr. Naresh Mandava (right), professor and chairman of the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology excitedly wait for a ground breaking ceremony to begin, June 28 at Anschutz Medical Campus. The Rocky Mountains Lions Eye Institute expansion project will cost about $26 million and will increase the eye center’s research and clinical space from 48,000 square feet to 135,000 square feet. The eye center will be open during construction, and the expansion should be complete by fall 2014. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Doebbeling, whose eyes are now healthy, attended a groundbreaking ceremony on June 28 for the eye center’s expansion project. As president of the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Institute Foundation, which raises money for some of the eye center’s research programs, Doebbeling says the expansion project will benefit people like him across the Rocky Mountain region, whose vision problems are increasing with age.

“(The eye center) is going to be able to handle twice as many patients, and they’re raising a lot of money for different research like glaucoma, macular degeneration and eye cancer,” he said.

The construction project will cost about $26 million and will increase the eye center’s research and clinical space from 48,000 square feet to 135,000 square feet. The eye center will be open during construction, and the expansion should be complete by fall 2014.

Today, the eye center has more than 100 staff members who specialize in every part of the eye from the front to back. About 52,000 patient visits are made to the center annually. The expansion project will double that volume.

“We’re going to be able to expand each and every one of our clinics, and every subspecialty will have more space,” said Dr. Malik Kahook, Slater Family endowed chair in ophthalmology and chief of glaucoma service at the University of Colorado Eye Center.

Kahook is also excited because the additional space will allow for the creation of a translational research center. That means researchers will be able to zone in on the latest treatments for eye diseases like glaucoma and eye cancer, and fast-track the time it takes to get from the research stage to the actual treatment stage.

“The patients who are coming here to see us will not only have access to the care we’re giving them today, but also have access to future therapies that we’re going to bring into the clinic, so whatever care they’re receiving can be enhanced,” Kahook said.

The expansion project is also timely since 2 million Americans suffer from age-related macular degeneration, a loss of vision that affects mostly seniors. That number will continue to increase over the next few years, said Dr. Naresh Mandava, professor and chairman of the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology.

“Our goal is to invent technology that will save people’s eyesight,” he said.