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[November 25, 2013]

SUNY Downstate Medical Center Receives $1 Million Empire Innovation Program Grant from State University of New York

Funds Will Enhance Research into Eyesight Restoration through Ophthalmology Faculty Recruitment and Retention 


Brooklyn, NY – The State University of New York’s Empire Innovation Program has awarded SUNY Downstate Medical Center a $1 million grant to recruit and retain faculty researchers in support of the Department of Ophthalmology’s research on restoring eyesight and preventing vision impairment. SUNY Downstate will match an additional $1 million to the project, which is a key part of the campus’s ongoing efforts to create a world-class vision center in Brooklyn.

The SUNY Empire Innovation Program is a state-funded effort dedicated to recruiting and retaining world-class faculty throughout the State University system.  

“This grant highlights Downstate’s role as the only academic medical center in Brooklyn,” said John F. Williams, Jr., MD, EdD, MPH, FCCM, president of Downstate. “It also reflects the strong emphasis that Downstate has placed on collaboration with SUNY through programs such as SUNY REACH and the SUNY Eye Institute.”

Douglas R. Lazzaro, MD, professor and Richard C. Troutman, MD, Distinguished Chair of Ophthalmology and Ophthalmic Microsurgery, said, “The award will allow the ophthalmology team to recruit or retain two faculty members and perform translational research with an emphasis on tissue repair and rescue, including stem cell research in the cornea, trabecular meshwork, and retina.” Translational research seeks to transform advances in basic science into practical techniques that improve health.

“The Empire Innovation Program grants are highly competitive,” noted President Williams. “The award reflects the strength of leadership in the Department of Ophthalmology, who have led our campus's effort in building a vision research group whose funding portfolio increased from zero dollars in 2006 to almost $9 million earlier this year.”

Dr. Lazzaro explained, “The research mission of the Department of Ophthalmology is to develop a vibrant and productive research center grounded in solid basic science of ocular disease, with strong translational efforts for disease prevention and sight restoration.”

William J. Brunken, PhD, professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Ophthalmology, said, “The hallmark of our center will be to integrate basic, clinical, and translational research into a single enterprise that can quickly turn cutting edge research into novel therapeutic advances.” Dr. Brunken is also a professor in the Departments of Cell Biology, Physiology and Pharmacology, and Neurology.

In addition to developing a core group of researchers on the Downstate campus, Drs. Lazzaro and Brunken have been leaders in creating the SUNY Eye Institute, a consortium of vision researchers from across the SUNY system and a model for cooperation among SUNY campuses. The SUNY Eye Institute is part of SUNY REACH (Research Excellence in Academic Health), a collaboration of the SUNY academic health centers and the SUNY College of Optometry that leverages research to advance the science of health care.

Downstate is the clinical leader among SUNY Eye Institute member campuses, serving more than 110,000 patients. In addition, Downstate’s ophthalmology physician resident training program is one of the largest in the country, with 21 residents in training.

The Downstate ophthalmology team and colleagues in the SUNY Eye Institute are committed to developing novel approaches to treating vision loss by combining stem cell engineering with the development of tissue specific niches.  


SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator.

SUNY Downstate ranks ninth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools. More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school.