Casey Eye Institute celebrates 25 years of vision

When Casey Eye Institute opened its doors 25 years ago, the sleek white building on OHSU's Marquam Hill campus signaled a new era in ophthalmology -- a place where comprehensive eye care, pioneering vision research and a robust academic program could grow and collaborate under one roof. 

Today, the Casey community is celebrating this special milestone by reflecting on its accomplishments and envisioning an exciting future in which new discoveries and expanding outreach efforts will help end blindness here and abroad. 

"Casey's story is the story of the people whose compassion, foresight and determination led us forward on this remarkable path of progress. The dedicated efforts of department leaders, faculty, staff, community members and donors helped shape a unique culture that continues to foster collaboration and innovation," said David J. Wilson, M.D., Thiele-Petti Chair, Department of Ophthalmology and Director, Casey Eye Institute. 

Many of those involved in Casey's early days recently joined fellow colleagues, donors and community leaders at a special celebration of the institute's quarter-century mark. As guests peered through bright blue View-Masters®, Dr. Wilson guided them through a pictorial tour of Casey through the years--its rise to a world-class facility thanks to visionary leaders and supporters, the landmark clinical trials that transformed eye care, the huge uptick in patient services provided and the new tools and delivery approaches being developed to meet tomorrow's health challenges.

Casey celebrates 25 years

Photo: Attendees at the 25th anniversary celebration use View-Masters® during Dr. Wilson's guided pictorial tour of Casey's history.

Honoring Casey founder Fritz Fraunfelder, M.D. 

A highlight of the event was the presentation of the OHSU School of Medicine's 2016 Dean's Award to Casey founder Frederick "Fritz" Fraunfelder, M.D., Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology from 1978 to 1997. One of the school's highest honors, the award recognizes an individual who has shown commitment to the OHSU School of Medicine through their volunteerism, teaching and/or philanthropic support.  

In presenting the award, OHSU President Joe Robertson, M.D., M.B.A.,-- who succeeded Dr. Fraunfelder as department chair in 1997--lauded his mentor's extraordinary efforts in spearheading the construction of the new eye institute, entirely funded through philanthropic support. "We did everything ourselves, including the planning and fundraising," recalled Dr. Fraunfelder, who gave up his clinical practice to devote himself to the massive project. 

For his part, Dr. Fraunfelder attributed his award to "all the people whose shoulders I stood on" in making the institute a reality. He recognized Kenneth Swan, M.D., the ophthalmology department's first chair and "father of Oregon ophthalmology," who fostered several key philanthropic partnerships during the capital campaign. Chief among them were Harry Casey and his sister Marguerite Casey, who named the building in honor of their brothers, UPS founders George and James Casey. Dr. Swan also formed close ties with the Oregon State Elks Association, who played a major fundraising role. 

Drs. Swan and Fraunfelder hold Casey building plan

Photo: Dr. Swan (left) and Dr. Fraunfelder (right) proudly hold up plans for what was to be the new Casey Eye Institute building.

Preserving eyesight today and tomorrow 

Fueled by technological advances and its deep bench of top tier faculty, the eye institute continues to venture into new territory, from pioneering the development and commercialization of non-invasive optical angiography to initiating a highly sophisticated ophthalmic informatics program. It also has become an international leader in gene therapy for blinding retinal disorders as a result of its longstanding and renowned ophthalmic genetics program and the expertise of the Casey Reading Center. 

To help Casey fulfill its bold mission of ending blindness, plans are underway to build a state-of-the art facility adjacent to its current structure on Marquam Hill, with groundbreaking expected in 2017. The 60,000 square foot building will be named the Oregon State Elks Children's Eye Clinic in recognition of a $20 million philanthropic investment from the Oregon State Elks Association. The facility will house some of Casey's most important programs, including subspecialty pediatric care, the Gene Therapy Center, Reading Center and Macular Degeneration Center. 

"Looking back, I marvel at the incredible impact Casey has made on saving and improving vision--whether through insights from breakthrough research, outstanding clinical care or the expertise of those who've trained here," said Dr. Wilson. "If history is a good preamble to future success, I am excited to see what progress we make in the next 25 years." 

Drs. Wilson and Robertson

Photo: Dr. Wilson (left) and Dr. Robertson (right) spoke at the recent 25th anniversary gathering.

Visions for the future 

Building on decades of innovation, Casey Eye Institute is on the cusp of significant advances in the fight against eye disease. Here's what's in store for the next 25 years: 

  1. Developing a truly accommodating intraocular lens. 
  2. Understanding how the microbiome contributes to inflammatory eye disease and macular degeneration, leading to new forms of therapy. 
  3. Reinventing the ophthalmology exam room to include advances in imaging, image processing, and big data. 
  4. Effective gene and cell based therapies to treat patients with inherited retinal disease and glaucoma. 
  5. Contact lenses that measure oxygen and glucose and serve as a Wi-Fi connected device. 
  6. Medical treatment of thyroid eye disease, eliminating the need for surgery. 
  7. Preventing amblyopia through an improved understanding of how the visual system develops. 
  8. Building a team and carrying out a coordinated strategy to prevent blindness in Oregon. 
  9. Establishing the first tertiary care facility and subspecialty institution in northern Myanmar.
  10. Diagnostic devices that non-invasively measure the structure and function of the eye.