Waterloo Eye Institute to become a reality

Unprecedented support from vision care providers FYidoctors and IRIS among gifts that will allow construction of the School of Optometry and Vision Science’s new centre of excellence By Fram Dinshaw Office of Advancement Thanks to support from the optometry profession, alumni and donors across Canada, the University of Waterloo will begin construction next year on the Waterloo Eye Institute (WEI), a state-of-the-art facility supporting advances in vision research, optometric education and patient care.

At a celebration at Waterloo’s School of Optometry and Vision Science on September 19, gifts totalling $8.5 million from two of the country’s leading vision care providers - FYidoctors and IRIS, The Visual Group - were announced. These contributions and those of other generous donors have enabled the School to turn the corner on its $35 million Seeing Beyond 2020 campaign, making the construction of the Waterloo Eye Institute a reality.

"The Waterloo Eye Institute is needed more than ever as we face a national and global vision crisis, with one in five Canadians at risk of losing their sight from eye disease," said Dr. Stanley Woo, director of the School.

Dr. Vivek Goel, Waterloo’s president and vice-chancellor, noted that "the WEI will leverage both the School of Optometry’s expertise and the University’s unconventional and collaborative approaches to research and education as well as provide excellent care for patients in our community." 

Recognizing the strengths of the School of Optometry and the vision for the Waterloo Eye Institute, FYidoctors and IRIS have both stepped forward with unprecedented gifts, significantly contributing to the campaign. 

The FYidoctors network has made a historical contribution, donating $5 million in support of the WEI (including a $2.5 million corporate donation and $2.5 million in contributions from the company’s individual optometrists). IRIS has generously donated $2.5 million, in addition to an earlier $1 million gift to the WEI, made in November 2022.

With 67,000 square feet of new and renovated space, the WEI will push the boundaries of eye and vision care, clinical education and research to benefit patients in the Waterloo region and across the country.

"The WEI represents the future of optometry in Canada, and it will provide world-class education opportunities, equipping the next generation of optometrists to provide quality eye care. Students will gain immensely by working alongside healthcare professionals and experts in the WEI’s modernized clinic," said Dr. Alan Ulsifer (OD ’90), CEO of FYidoctors.  

Dr. Woo added, "The WEI will be a national resource for our profession. It will offer us a chance to train and collaborate with optometrists from around the world as well as help us reach underserved and marginalized communities that are often at greatest risk of eye conditions. We are grateful to have the support of partners like IRIS and FYidoctors."

On top of advancing optometric education and patient care, the WEI has the potential to shape the future of health care. Using the eye as a window to the brain, WEI researchers will deploy their expertise in AI, biomedical sciences and digital imagery to develop new treatments for widespread conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetes.

Dr. Daryan Angle (OD ’01), vice-president of business development at IRIS, said: "Our support for the WEI aligns with IRIS’s commitment to funding eye and vision research and innovation. We hope to advance the profession in a way that keeps optometry in Canada healthy, strong and moving forward."

Kelsey Gagnon,  
Associate Director, Advancement  
School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of Waterloo