Vision Research Center is a vital, unknown asset for Kansas City

Premium content from Kansas City Business Journal by Michael Braude, Contributing Writer
Date: Friday, June 29, 2012, 5:00am CDT
Don Alexander is one of the leaders in our business community whom I most respect. The Dutch-born banker-turned-entrepreneur has been a huge success in everything he has touched.
Just as in commerce, when he embraces a cause in the world of philanthropy, I certainly take notice. After Marshall Dean III introduced me to Vision Research Center of Kansas City, where he is a foundation director, I learned that Don Alexander also was an enthusiastic director and supporter.

I called Don for his take on the Vision Research Center and he told me: “The reason I got involved was because the quality of life just disappears when you can’t see well or see at all. I had to contribute to stopping eye disease. The center’s combination of practicing ophthalmologists and great researchers provides a powerful combination for attacking eye disease.”

A lengthy visit to the Vision Research Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2300 Holmes Road, convinced me how right Don is. I spent several hours with the center’s amazingly capable advancement director, Bridgette O’Connor, and Dr. Peter Koulen, the center’s director of basic research.

Kansas City is incredibly fortunate to have a research scientist like Koulen in our town. He was trained at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Germany and at the Yale University School of Medicine. He came here from the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center, where he served as director of its eye research institute. I came away from my time with him realizing that he is a leader in the quest to discover better treatments for diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and macular degeneration. He also is extremely articulate and very personable.

The mission of VRC began in 2007. It is to develop prevention strategies and cures for the three debilitating eye diseases that Koulen focuses on. It is the research program of the Department of Ophthalmology at the UMKC School of Medicine, and it has been endorsed by the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute Inc. During my visit, I quickly understood what Don Alexander had told me. Typically, it takes a long time for researchers’ discoveries to reach a patient’s bedside. The process is greatly expedited at VRC because of the close proximity of research scientists, clinicians and practicing ophthalmologists. This institution is an incredible and, unfortunately, relatively unknown Kansas City asset. It is likely that major breakthroughs in conquering the three age-related debilitative eye diseases will occur right here in our town.

The Vision Research Center deserves the financial and manpower support of our business community. What could be more important than the development of preventive methods and new treatments to save vision? Don Alexander is right on.