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LC Industries, the largest employer of visually impaired people in the country, has made a $12 million gift toward the creation of a new state-of-the-art Duke Eye Center, announced Victor J. Dzau, MD, Chancellor for Health Affairs Duke University, and CEO, Duke University Health System.

While the creation of this facility is ultimately subject to approval through the state’s Certificate of Need process, as well as university and health system governance approvals, it is possible that a new Duke Eye Center facility could be built on the Duke Medicine campus as early as 2013.

“This state-of-the-art facility will provide the highest quality of eye care to our patients as well as facilitating the translation of discoveries being made on the research side to breakthrough innovations in clinical care for people with various eye diseases and conditions,” said Dzau. “I can’t think of a better partnership for this vitally important work than a company that has set the standard in this country for its employment of people who are visually impaired, and one of the nation’s premier eye centers. This gift is very much appreciated.”

“This gift takes our company’s commitment to people with visual impairments to a new level,” said Bill Hudson, president of Durham-based LC Industries, and a member of the Duke Eye Center Advisory Board. “We want to play a meaningful role in the process that leads to cures for the common causes of blindness.”

Vision loss is quickly becoming a major health problem as the population ages and the rate of eye disease increases. The National Eye Institute predicts the number of people who are blind or visually impaired will jump from three million to more than five million by the year 2020.

Likewise, the rise in diabetes cases in the U.S. is expected to impact the incidence of major eye diseases including diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma. Today, close to eight percent of Americans have diabetes, which is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults 20-74 years of age.

A recent study estimates the number of diabetes patients who have diabetic retinopathy will increase from 5.5 million to 16 million by 2050.

The Duke Eye Center is consistently ranked among the top-ten eye centers in the country by several organizations. Its renowned research facility, the Albert Eye Research Institute, is home to scientists and researchers who work together to take knowledge from the laboratory bench to the clinic.

But space is lacking at the building currently housing the Duke Eye Center. Over the last five years, the Eye Center has grown 9 percent annually in both surgical procedures and clinic visits. Today, more than 80,000 patients are treated there annually.

“For years, we have been bursting at the seams in our current facility,” says David Epstein, MD, Chairman of Ophthalmology in the Duke University School of Medicine and Chairman of the Duke Eye Center. “Between the exploding demands for our specialty and sub-specialty clinical services, and our expanding research portfolio, a new facility is the only way we can continue to provide the people of North Carolina with the kind of care they have come to expect of Duke.”

With this gift, an extensive planning process has been initiated with hopes that a Certificate of Need for the new facility will be filed with the state in late 2010 or early 2011, with construction commencing immediately upon approval should approval be granted. The balance of the fund-raising necessary to complete this project will be on-going throughout this process.

”This gift, which will be completed over time, is a testament to our long-term commitment to the company’s current and future employees,” says Dick Hutson, chairman of LC Industries’ Board of Directors. “This gift reflects the mission and values of the organization, and we believe Duke is uniquely capable of maximizing its impact on behalf of patients.”

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