UAMS Eye Institute Unveils Genetics Center; Announces $1 Million Gift

By David Robinson

The Leland and Betty Tollett Retinal and Ocular Genetics Center, occupying the previously unfinished eighth floor of the Jones Eye Institute, is the result of $3 million given in 2010 by the Tollett family. The center is the only one of its kind in the region, and puts the Institute on the leading edge nationally for merging medical genetics into ophthalmologic care.

Christopher Westfall, M.D., chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology in the College of Medicine and director of the Jones Eye Institute, said the possibilities for the center will have a major impact.

“It will be another component on the UAMS campus that will act as a magnet for patients and families,” Westfall said. “The center will go a long way in helping to make the Jones Eye Institute a premiere comprehensive eye center for genetics research and treatment.”

UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., credited the Jones Eye Institute leadership and the generosity of the Tollett family.

“Because of the vision of the Tollett family and the innovative leadership at the Jones Eye Institute, this center will add another component to UAMS that people across the region can look to for specialty care they might not find anywhere else,” Rahn said.

A $1 million gift from the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation was also announced at the unveiling. The gift will go toward the Institute’s goal of raising $17 million to round out its funding of the new Center.

“Pat Walker and the Walker Foundation have shown their love and compassion for the people of our state through their support of the Eye Institute, UAMS and many other organizations and causes,” said Westfall. “We are humbled by their continued generosity.”

The Leland and Betty Tollett Retinal and Ocular Genetics Center is comprised of research and patient clinics.

Nalini Bora, M.D., a professor and director of research in the Pat and Willard Walker Eye Research Center, will oversee the basic research component of the Center. The genetics-related research already being done at JEI will expand with the Center’s opening, including the addition of new equipment and staff. The research goal, Bora said, will be to find a cure for ocular diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, and glaucoma.

The clinical component overseen by Sami H. Uwaydat, M.D., director of the Retina Service and medical director of the new center, will establish a database of genetic profiles of patients. That effort will be helped by Bradley Schaefer, M.D., director of the UAMS Division of Genetics who will work closely with the new Center.

The Center also will offer treatment, genetic counseling and vision rehabilitation services. Schaefer said the importance of integrating the genetics components into the Jones Eye Institute can’t be overstated.

“Genetics has been heralded as the next frontier in medical care and preventive health care,” he said. “The opening of this center is a step into the future of health care in Arkansas and the region. It’s a very exciting time to be a part of medicine.”

John P. Shock, M.D., distinguished professor and founding director of the Jones Eye Institute, said there have been major discoveries in the knowledge of retinal disorders and ocular genetics in the past decade, prompting the need for the new center.

“These new discoveries along with new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies have provided exciting opportunities for the prevention of vision loss,” Shock said. “If you take into account that in the next decade or so the number of patients with serious ocular conditions will double due to our growing aging population, the timing for developing a Retinal and Ophthalmic Genetic Disorders Center is ideal.”

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Related Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a 540,000-square-foot hospital; a statewide network of regional centers; and six institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 2,836 students and 761 medical residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit or