Ground broken for new eye/diabetes building

The University of Michigan Health System broke ground on Sept. 19 on a $121 million, 222,000 square-foot building that will more than double U-M's capacity for eye care, research and education, and will give scientists more space to search for a cure for Type 1 diabetes.

The new eight-floor building, scheduled to open in 2010 on Wall Street in Ann Arbor, will house an expansion of the U-M W.K. Kellogg Eye Center's clinics and laboratories, and two floors of research facilities focused on diabetes. It will be adjacent to, and connected to, the current eye center tower, which was built in 1985.

In a ceremony today on the future site of the new building, U-M leaders - and donors whose gifts have helped make the project possible - will salute its potential to serve more patients, and accelerate the pace of research.

"Eye disease and diabetes are two pressing issues for our society, and as the Baby Boom generation grows older, they will become even more so," says Robert Kelch, M.D., executive vice president for medical affairs and UMHS CEO. "This building, as a crucial part of our master plan, and located just across the river from our main medical campus, will allow us to grow our efforts in both disciplines."

Designed by TSA of Massachusetts, the Cambridge-based architecture, planning, anddesign firm, the building will be modern in design, but will incorporate features that will 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 aid patient flow. Research areas will feature open laboratories to encourage collaboration and provide flexibility as research projects grow. The building will also have a strong connection to the City of Ann Arbor's nearby Riverside Park, both visually and physically.

Says Kellogg director and U-M chair of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences Paul R. Lichter, M.D., "When the new W.K. Kellogg Eye Center opened in 1985, we were thrilled at the possibilities that could arise from bringing together the Department's clinicians and researchers under one roof. That collaboration has yielded significant advances in eye care and vision research. Now as we anticipate a state-of-the-art facility for research, education, and patient care, we will have new technologies, new laboratories, and new opportunities to accelerate the pace of research toward sight-saving treatments for our patients."

Two upper floors of the expansion 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 the U-M Medical School 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.

"Dee and I are very pleased with the design for the Kellogg expansion and the Brehm Center laboratories," says Mr. Brehm. "This is a great day. There has been fine collaboration among the architects, administrators, and scientists to produce a design that clearly signals our intentions - a design that emphasizes not only world-class laboratory space but also the community elements that ultimately will facilitate collaboration among the Michigan scientists and their colleagues at other fine research facilities in the US and overseas. This collaboration is an essential ingredient in our objective of accelerating the search for a cure for Type 1 diabetes."

A large portion of the Brehms' gift - $30 million - is helping make the building's construction possible, along with funds from UMHS reserves and from other donors. The Brehm gift was motivated by the couple's desire to find a cure for the disease that Mrs. Brehm has battled for more than 55 years.

The building may also help U-M vision researchers and diabetes researchers collaborate on studies of eye-related complications of diabetes, notably diabetic retinopathy.

People with either form of diabetes - Type 1, sometimes called "juvenile" diabetes, and Type 2, which is linked to obesity - are especially prone to eye disease. Many of them will, over time, lose some or all of their eyesight due to diabetic retinopathy, which arises when new abnormal blood vessels grow in the retina, or weakened vessels leak blood or fluid into the eye. People with diabetes are also far more prone to other eye diseases, including glaucoma and cataracts.

In addition to a national reputation in studies of diabetic retinopathy, U-M is a leader in other areas of vision care and research, including cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and other conditions of the aging eye. Among recent Kellogg research achievements is the discovery of a gene variant that accounts for over 40 percent of AMD susceptibility among older adults, and the development of a novel microchip genetic testing device.

U-M offers such advanced clinical options as genetic testing for eye disease, "bladeless" laser surgery first developed at U-M, and new kinds of lenses that can be implanted to improve vision after cataract surgery. Space for genetic testing will increase in the new building so that more patients with serious eye disorders can learn whether their children or other relatives are likely to carry disease genes. Kellogg was the first eye center to receive federal certification for eye gene testing.

These advanced clinics will have much more space in the new building, at a time when it is very much needed. Kellogg has experienced 11 percent annual 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.

In addition to its main location, the Kellogg Eye Center offers care at satellite locations throughout southeast Michigan, including the Livonia Center for Specialty Care, the Canton Health Center, the Briarwood Health Center in Ann Arbor, and in office locations in Brighton, Milford, West Bloomfield and Ypsilanti. Taken together, all the locations had more than 127,000 patient visits in 2005.


Written by Kara Gavin

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