NEWS | September 18, 2008

Ophthalmology department renamed UC Davis Health System Eye Center

To reflect its unique value to patients more accurately, as well as the stature of its patient-care and research activities, the UC Davis Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Science is now the UC Davis Health System Eye Center. "Across the United States, the 'eye center' title is widely known as a designation for institutions that provide the highest level of treatment and research for eye health and care," said Mark J. Mannis, professor and chair of the Eye Center. "Our department clearly has established itself as one of the top eye programs in the country, and its new title is a more-accurate, commensurate reflection of its stature nationally and internationally." Among academic ophthalmology programs in the country, the UC Davis Health System Eye Center is one of the most prominent, and at the health system, it has the second-largest outpatient clinic. The center's growth in recent years has been especially remarkable, said Mannis. Since 1998, the number of patients that have been to the center's clinic has more than doubled, from 22,000 to approximately 50,000 this year. In one recent period, from July 2001 to January 2004, the program's research grant funding increased from $8.45 million to $17 million, and its clinical and drug trials rose from 37 to 66. The Eye Center has long been an important referral resource for ophthalmologists in Northern California and beyond. "The patients we see often have some of the most difficult, intractable eye cases found, and they come to us through referrals from around Northern California, including UC San Francisco and Stanford University," he said. "In Northern California, there's not an equivalent program." In recent years, the Eye Center has achieved research breakthroughs that received national and international attention. In 2000, Ivan Schwab, professor of ophthalmology, helped develop a new technique for growing replacement cornea tissue in a laboratory dish. Using the laboratory-grown corneas, Schwab and his colleagues restored or improved the eyesight in 10 of 14 patients with severe corneal damage. Before receiving the transplanted corneas, the patients had damage to their ocular surface and had failed standard treatments, including conventional cornea transplants. The technique pioneered by Schwab and his co-investigator, dermatology professor R. Rivkah Isseroff, involves the removal of a few corneal stem cells from a healthy cornea. The harvested cells are placed in multiple laboratory dishes, where the stem cells produce a fragile film of corneal cells. This film, plus the surviving stem cells, are transferred to a sterile, amniotic membrane and allowed to grow to a greater thickness. This bioengineered composite tissue is then stitched onto the patient's eye, after the abnormal corneal tissue has been removed. In 2004, a man who had been blind for nearly 40 years regained his eyesight after a surgical team led by Mannis implanted an artificial cornea and lens in his right eye. At the time, the successful sight-restoring procedure was among the first in California and among only 250 such procedures attempted in the United States. The patient, Nikon Sandulyak, a former veterinarian and resident of Odessa, Ukraine, had been blinded in 1966 while working with lye. Over the next 38 years, he had sought treatment from the best clinics and specialists in Russia, but none could guarantee that his vision would improve even 1 percent. In October 2003, after Sandulyak had emigrated to the United States, he met with Mannis, the author of the definitive textbook on disease of the cornea. Mannis determined that Sandulyak was a perfect candidate to receive a promising artificial cornea that was relatively new at the time. The artificial cornea was developed by a Harvard ophthalmologist and had been approved by the FDA only in 2002. In May 2004, Sandulyak became the first patient in Northern California to receive the artificial cornea, known as the Dohlman keratoprosthesis. The Eye Center recently completed 15 years of participation in a nationwide, multi-center clinical trial that has led to one of the most important eye-health discoveries of the last 20 years -- that daily use of pressure lowering eyedrops can delay or even prevent the onset of one of the leading causes of blindness: open-angle glaucoma. At UC Davis, the trial was led by co-principal investigator James Brandt, professor of ophthalmology, who enrolled nearly 120 patients in the Ocular Hypertension Treatment Study and followed them for almost 15 years. UC Davis played a prominent role in the study, both by providing the largest group of participants and serving as one of the centralized reading centers for testing. The Eye Center this year observes the 40th anniversary of its founding as the Department of Ophthalmology. The UC Davis School of Medicine was established in 1966 and, in 1968, the ophthalmology department became the first approved residency program at the school.Visit the Eye Center's new Web site at


connect with us

Facebook icon  Twitter icon  YouTube icon  Pinterest icon  GooglePlus icon  LinkedIn icon