In the latest boost to Orange County’s thriving ophthalmology industry, the area will house the second center in the U.S. to restore sight to patients blinded from severe ocular surface disease by 2023.
The Holland Foundation for Sight Restoration is building its first “Center of Excellence” at UC Irvine’s Gavin Herbert Eye Institute on the western edge of the university’s campus, where it expects to recreate the ocular transplant program at Cincinnati’s Center for the Restoration of Sight.
The foundation plans to open five other centers across the country over the next few years.
The Holland Foundation was founded in 2021 in Cincinnati by Dr. Edward Holland, an award-winning ophthalmologist who specializes in cornea and ocular surface restoration.
He is also currently director of cornea services at the Cincinnati Eye Institute and professor of ophthalmology at the University of Cincinnati.
To date, Holland has restored sight to 500 people from around the world, including 19 children.
“I can’t do all of these surgeries, and I won’t be around forever, but we can’t let this program die,” Holland told the Business Journal.
According to Holland Foundation Board Advisor Jim Mazzo, the center for excellence was also “the dream and vision” of the late Dr. Roger Steinert, founder of the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, whom he refers to as “one of the greats in ophthalmology.”
Steinert died in 2017.
UCI’s eye institute opened in 2013 at a reported cost of $39 million. It was the last privately funded institute to open on UCI grounds, and totals 70,000 square feet.
“Dr. Holland has done an unbelievable job showing us the procedure. Now we need to replicate it here,” said Mazzo, long the top business executive in OC’s ophthalmology industry.
“With this program, Dr. Holland and his team will be able to help men, women, children and the elderly to see and become impactful people in society again.”
The Holland Foundation is the only charitable organization created to address the unmet medical needs of corneal transplantation for patients who have severe ocular surface disease, a disease characterized by blindness caused by a severely damaged cornea.
Causes can range from chemical and industrial injuries to hereditary skin diseases and inflammatory diseases. It’s estimated hundreds of thousands of patients suffer from the condition in the U.S. Currently, less than 1% of those patients are being served.
July 9 Fundraiser
The Holland Foundation aims to raise between $500,000 and $1 million, with funds going to hire a full-time transplant coordinator, a cornea surgeon, and an ancillary renal team for the Irvine location. UCI will also be hiring additional support staff to help manage these cases.
To kick-start the effort, the foundation is hosting an exclusive dinner event on July 9 at Newport Beach’s Big Canyon Country Club.
The event will feature Washington, D.C. broadcast journalist Chris Wallace and a private concert from Broadway star Leslie Lloyd Odom Jr., who in 2016 won a Tony Award for his role as Aaron Burr in the play Hamilton.
According to Mazzo, Odom Jr. wanted to perform as a personal thank you to Holland, who restored 20/20 vision to someone important to him.
Allergan co-founder Gavin Herbert, namesake of the center, and UCI’s Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs Dr. Steve Goldstein will also be in attendance.
The event will include a pre-dinner activity, dinner and a performance. Tables are priced at $50,000 and individual tickets, $1,000. A portion of event proceeds will go to the Holland Foundation.
A Breakthrough Discovery
According to Dr. Edward Holland, a corneal transplant is considered the most successful organ transplant procedure in the human body—except for patients with an ocular surface disease.
“No matter what we did for those patients, their transplants would fail,” he said. “We didn’t understand the pattern of rejection.”
Holland and his team of 10 scientists set out to discover why. They found that those patients lacked limbal stem cells, which are located at the junction between the white part of the eye and the cornea, causing the eye to reject the donor tissue.
Thus, they went “all in on immunosuppression,” Holland said, and devised a new procedure, where they’d take stem cells from another eye and transplant them to the patient’s eye. Three months later, they would perform the corneal transplant.
He completed his first successful procedure in 1989.
Soon thereafter, the so-called “Cincinnati Protocol” boasted the highest success rate among programs in the country—about 75%—a great improvement from what they had before, which was “zero chance of vision,” he said.