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May 19, 2006

U-M Regents approve $121M Eye Center expansion, to make it the largest in Midwest

Larger clinic space will help Kellogg give aging Baby Boomers the services they expect; new lab space will accelerate genetic research on eye disease

Two floors of new building devoted to diabetes labs endowed by Brehm gift

ANN ARBOR, MI –Architectural designs were approved today for the largest and most comprehensive eye center in the entire Midwest. The University of Michigan Board of Regents gave the go-ahead for a $121 million expansion of the U-M Kellogg Eye Center, approving the plans for a 222,000 square-foot building that will nearly double the University’s current space for eye care, education and research when it opens in 2010.

Kellogg Expansion: Click on image for larger viewThe expanded Eye Center will be a model for other vision centers, allowing the U-M Health System to serve an aging population — including many Baby Boomers who are just beginning to turn 60, an age at which many start to experience cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and other conditions of the aging eye. Current projections forecast growing demand for technological vision-care advances, ranging from genetic testing for eye disease, to “bladeless” laser surgery, to new kinds of lenses that can be implanted to improve vision after cataract surgery. 

The Kellogg Eye Center has experienced 11 percent growth in patient visits in each of the last seven years and expects even faster growth as the aging boomer population peaks in the next 10 to 15 years. By 2030, 25 percent of Michigan’s population will be 60 years or older, placing a strain on medical centers that have not planned for growth. The new Eye Center will serve these patients with state-of-the-art clinics, educational facilities, and laboratories where scientists will have the resources to accelerate research on eye disease and treatments.

Two upper floors of the new eight-floor building will house advanced laboratories for Type 1 diabetes research, and cutting-edge facilities for communication and data-sharing among diabetes researchers throughout U-M and beyond. Made possible by part of the $44 million gift given to U-M by Delores and William Brehm in 2004, the floors will also house the offices of the Brehm Center for Type 1 Diabetes Research and Analysis, which seeks to accelerate the search for a cure for Type 1 diabetes.

Paul Licher, MDNew vision research space will also foster programs that can have a direct impact on patient care, including opportunities to collaborate with Brehm researchers on eye-related complications of diabetes. Paul R. Lichter, M.D., director of the Kellogg Eye Center, anticipates recruiting new senior scientists who will focus on genetic research and other approaches that will lead to rapid development of treatments for AMD and other degenerative eye diseases. 

“Models for understanding and treating eye disorders are emerging from our laboratories right now,” says Lichter. “With additional resources and space, we will be able to transform these concepts into technologies for treatment. Several current projects have potential to yield major breakthroughs, including drug development, gene therapy, and a novel device that will detect eye disease well before symptoms appear.”

In addition to expanding clinical capacity and research space, the new building also exemplifies the U-M Health System’s master plan for physical growth that seeks to use its existing Wall Street properties to augment the main medical center campus just across the Huron River.

“This facility will give two of our signature centers room to grow and thrive,” says Robert Kelch, M.D., executive vice president for medical affairs and CEO of UMHS. “Our ophthalmology clinicians and researchers can truly benefit from more space in which to pursue their nationally known work, and Bill and Dee Brehm have entrusted us with nothing less than a charge to change diabetes care through better research and information sharing. This building will help us do both, while also achieving a high aesthetic and architectural standard.”

A unique aspect of eye disease is its profound impact on quality of life, which carries both economic and social costs. “People often speak of AMD as a public health concern,” observes Lichter.  “When individuals can no longer drive or perform simple tasks in their own homes, we all pay a price.” The National Eye Institute estimates the annual cost of vision impairment and eye disease to the nation is $68 billion.

Diabetes research facility will foster cooperation
The two floors of the new building devoted to diabetes laboratories and offices will embody the vision of Bill and Dee Brehm: to help researchers cooperate and share information in a way that accelerates the search for a cure for the disease that Mrs. Brehm has battled for more than 55 years. Type 1 diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes, affects about 3 million Americans of all ages.

A large portion of the Brehms’ gift — $30 million — will help make possible some of the most advanced research space and collaborative technology anywhere. The laboratories will have open floor plans to allow maximum contact among researchers, and the collaborative technologies now being evaluated will help researchers in the Brehm labs communicate and share data freely with their colleagues in other U-M research buildings.

Peter Arvan, MD"The building provides a new lease on life for the growing diabetes programs on our campus,” says Peter Arvan, M.D., Ph.D., the Brehm Professor of Type I Diabetes Research, Chief of the Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Diabetes and Interim Director of the Michigan Comprehensive Diabetes Center.  “Like in any vibrant medical center, research space is terribly precious and scarce. Bill Brehm has jump-started the process of making Michigan a leading national center in diabetes research.”

Arvan calls the project a “building for the future” which will allow U-M diabetes researchers to develop programs for the future. He continues, “The ultimate winners are the state as a whole, and the patients, and families of patients, with both types of diabetes and related metabolic disorders.”

Says Bill Brehm, “There are several advantages to having the ophthalmology and diabetes activities collocated in the Kellogg addition: First, a major complication of diabetes is the development of vision problems; indeed diabetes is sometimes first diagnosed through examination of the eyes. Second, diabetes research and research into certain eye pathologies have some distinct parallels as to the demands on the research process, thus making close collaboration of such research approaches highly desirable. Third, in terms of style of operation, we share a common interest in creating community among researchers, clinicians, patients, and visitors -- a feature that can be designed into a building only by being focused on and sensitive to human needs and human dynamics."

Genetic research will drive new services and treatment options
Having developed one of the top vision research programs in the nation, Kellogg scientists have made significant progress in identifying genes and creating models of diseases like AMD, toward new treatment options. As one mark of notable progress, researchers at Kellogg and other institutions recently discovered a gene variant that accounts for over 40 per cent of AMD susceptibility among older adults.

“These are the kinds of discoveries that result from deploying the right resources to research challenges,” says Lichter, the F. Bruce Fralick Professor and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the U-M Medical School. “The most successful research programs continue to grow, adding more researchers who will find new ways to decode and tackle eye disease.”

Space allotted for genetic testing will increase in the building so that patients with serious eye disorders can learn whether their children or other family members are likely to carry disease genes. The Kellogg Eye Center was first in the nation to receive the necessary federal certification for eye gene testing; more recently, scientists at Kellogg developed a novel microchip genetic testing device. Plans also call for expanded genetic counseling services to help patients understand the uses and implications of genetic testing.

In an effort to get new research programs up and running by the time the new building opens, recruitment for several research positions is underway, including one faculty slot for a biostatistician to analyze and interpret the vast amounts of data generated by genetic research. Another position is slated for a translational researcher specializing in degenerative eye disease, who will be charged with bringing results from basic research more quickly to achieve practical solutions for the patient.

Designing for patients and productivity
The building is modern in design, but will incorporate features to create a warm and welcoming environment. Large windows and a full wall of glass panels on the building’s façade will allow natural light to fill the clinics and common space, of particular benefit to patients whose vision is impaired. Clinics will have space for patient education and comfortable waiting areas designed to expedite patient flow. Research areas will feature open laboratories to encourage collaboration and provide flexibility as research projects grow.

University planners and the appointed architect, TSA of Massachusetts, have designed the building to have a strong connection to the City of Ann Arbor’s nearby Riverside Park. That connection will occur both visually where the existing and new buildings meet, but also in the planned access to the park on either side of the Eye Center. According to the U-M Health System’s master plan, Parkview and Turner buildings, which currently house all eye clinics, will be demolished once the expansion is complete.

For more on the Brehm gift and the facilities and faculty positions it is making possible, visit www.med.umich.edu/brehm.

For more on the plans for the Kellogg Eye Center expansion, visit www.kellogg.umich.edu.

Written by Betsy Nisbet

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