Eye Institute - News Release

UNMC breaks ground on eye institute that will transform vision care in Omaha

The University of Nebraska Medical Center breaks ground today on an eye institute that will transform vision care in the region.

The Stanley M. Truhlsen Eye Institute will bring clinicians, researchers and patients together in one state-of-the-art facility featuring specialized care and the latest in diagnostic medicine. It will offer hope to people suffering from blinding eye diseases such as macular degeneration and glaucoma.

People like Hal Spurrier, 70, who was born with an extreme case of near sightedness and diagnosed at 28 with glaucoma.

For the next 42 years, Spurrier would rely on medications to keep his glaucoma at bay, but in 1993 the available medications would no longer control his glaucoma.

That’s when he said he was “unbelievably fortunate” to be referred to ophthalmologists at UNMC where he enrolled in a clinical trial being conducted for a new glaucoma drug by the late Carl Camras, M.D. He’s been using the medicine Dr. Camras developed, which stabilized his glaucoma, ever since. The drug, Latanaprost, has now become the gold standard of treatment for patients.

“What’s really amazing is they have all these great docs in this outdated building, but you know they do some amazing work there,” Spurrier said.

The new facility will house outpatient eye exam facilities for all ophthalmic subspecialties, a children’s eye care center, clinical research and a regional diagnostic center. The diagnostic center will offer services such as high resolution laser and ultrasound imaging that are not currently available in the region.

“A new facility for eye care is sorely needed at this medical center. The Truhlsen Eye Institute will position UNMC to become a world leader in clinical care, research and education in vision disorders,” said UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D. “We are most grateful to Dr. Truhlsen, himself an internationally renowned ophthalmologist, for his generous gift to build this institute. We feel it will attract outstanding faculty, staff and students to this new center of excellence.”

Dr. Truhlsen joined UNMC's ophthalmology department in 1951, served on the faculty until 1990 and was interim chairman of the department in 1989-90. He served as president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in 1983 and the American Ophthalmological Society (AOS) in 1996.

In 2001, he received the Lucien Howe Medal from the AOS. The Howe Medal is considered one of the most prestigious awards in ophthalmology. It is awarded in recognition of "conspicuous services as a researcher or a teacher during long years of devotion" and for contributions to ophthalmology.

Construction on the Truhlsen Eye Institute is set to begin next year with completion tentatively set for late 2012. The total cost of the project is $30 million. It will be completed in two phases. The first phase will be a 47,000-square-foot-building housing clinical services, clinical research, diagnostic and educational facilities. A surgical wing will be added later.

The building will be located at 40th and Leavenworth streets, west of the Weigel Williamson Center for Visual Rehabilitation and the Home Instead Center for Successful Aging.

“Advanced diagnostic and clinical research facilities in the eye institute will allow us to build on the world-class research currently being conducted in the Truhlsen Eye Research Laboratories at UNMC. It also will enable us to educate the next generation of eye specialists and provide the means to keep private ophthalmologists in our local communities up-to-date on state-of-the-art surgical techniques,” said Thomas Hejkal, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of the UNMC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

It is estimated that by the year 2020 age-related eye diseases will increase by 30 percent in the U.S., Dr. Hejkal said. Clinical studies at the new eye institute will most likely concentrate initially on areas of current strengths in the department including glaucoma, cataracts and retinal diseases such as macular degeneration, he said.