IRVINE – When the new Gavin Herbert Eye Institute at UC Irvine opens to patients Tuesday, the $39 million, privately-funded center will offer one-stop care ranging from fittings for glasses to cataract surgery.

In addition to doubling patient capacity and adding the first outpatient operating rooms on campus, ophthalmologists and business executives envision a research center for academic and corporate use. The institute is expected to eventually test stem cell research to restore sight now underway in campus labs, as well as conduct clinical trials for products made by the host of eye care companies located in Orange County.

Article Tab: Gavin Herbert, right, chats with Jerry Hansen during the UC Irvine Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute Open House.
Gavin Herbert, right, chats with Jerry Hansen during the UC Irvine Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute Open House.

“It is no longer a need for people to think I need to go up to L.A. to get my eye care. We have it all here,” said Dr. Roger Steinert, founding director of the institute. “This now becomes the catalyst for growth of innovation.”

The project was paid for entirely with private funds, including $10 million from Gavin Herbert, founder of Allergan Inc. of Irvine. Other major donors include Abbot Medical Optics of Santa Ana, the Alcon Foundation, the charitable arm of Alcon, which has a plant in Irvine, and Bausch and Lomb with surgical headquarters in Aliso Viejo.

“I think it will help them bring new therapies and products to market sooner,” Herbert said Wednesday as he toured the 70,000-square-foot building. “Residents of Orange County are going to have even better access – earlier — to new technology.”

Dr. Ralph Clayman, dean of the medical school, said the eye institute never would have been built if UCI had relied on state funding. He said he hopes more private donations will allow for customized expansion based on community needs.

“This sets a tremendous precedent,” Clayman said. “Tomorrow maybe it’s a musculoskeletal institute. Maybe the next day it’s a specialized cancer center on this campus. This is what we should be doing more and more of.”

The building was designed with eye-catching features, while also accommodating patients with limited vision.

Reflective dichroic glass art hangs from the 45-foot ceiling in the lobby, where sunlight creates colorful reflections that change with the shifting of light. A rotating series of posters contain enlarged copies of research papers with vivid photos of work done at UCI.

UCI consulted with the Braille Institute to select colors, patterns and even bathroom fixtures. For instance, check-in countertops are gray.

“You have to get a color that is contrasting enough so if someone with partial sight puts down a piece of paper, they don’t lose track of it,” Steinert said.

He said noisy hand dryers for the bathrooms were scrapped because the sound would drown out audio clues for orientation such as running water and movement of the door.

The institute will consolidate and expand a number of services. For the first time, it will offer optometry services and also has four exam rooms designed for children.

Dr. Sumit “Sam” Garg, the institute’s medical director, said the nonprofit Sight Life eye bank will move into the building this fall, giving local doctors immediate access to tissue used in corneal transplants and research instead of receiving shipments from Seattle.

“It just gives us another resource,” Garg said.

Previously, patients underwent surgery at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange. They shared space with other specialties in the Gottschalk Medical Plaza on campus and doctors had their offices in another building.

“It’s just so amazing to have this unified facility instead of being split up,” Steinert said. “Now all of this has been brought together.”