Lois Pope Donates $1 Million for Eye Transplant Research

The longtime supporter of the Miller School is motivated by the memory of her mother’s struggles with macular degeneration.

A daughter’s love and devotion to her beloved mother is the motivation behind Palm Beach philanthropist Lois Pope’s $1 million gift to the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Lois Pope with Eduardo C. Alfonso, M.D.
Lois Pope with Bascom Palmer Director Eduardo Alfonso, M.D., outside the Lois Pope Center for Retinal and Macular Degeneration Research.

Mrs. Pope hopes the gift will one day lead to the transplantation of an entire, functional human eye, a quest that has been called the scientific Everest. If successful, the procedure could restore vision to millions of people affected by uncorrectable vision loss or blindness.

A History of Miller School Philanthropy

A longtime supporter of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Mrs. Pope’s $12 million gift in 2018 created the Lois Pope Center for Retinal and Macular Degeneration Research on Bascom Palmer’s Palm Beach Gardens campus. Previously, she generously advanced the neurosciences by establishing the Lois Pope LIFE Center, the world’s foremost center for research, treatment, and services for paralysis and other neurological diseases.

Philanthropist Lois Pope
Lois Pope hopes her gift inspires others to support the research at Bascom Palmer.

“My mother suffered for many years from the terrible, life-altering impact of macular degeneration and, because of her condition, I set out to learn as much as I could about such diseases,” remembers Mrs. Pope. “While I learned that there are treatments to slow the progression of macular degeneration, there are no cures yet. That was the impetus for creating the Center, but that was only the first step.”

Through her relationship with Eduardo C. Alfonso, M.D., director of Bascom Palmer, professor and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Miller School and the Kathleen and Stanley J. Glaser Endowed Professor in Ophthalmology, she learned of the effort to mobilize scientific forces to transplant a human eye and wanted to be part of the quest.

“I’ve had a long and cherished friendship with Dr. Alfonso and he’s always been my go-to person for anything and everything eye-related,” explains Mrs. Pope. “During one of our many conversations, he told me about the work the Institute was beginning to do on the development of a so-called bionic eye. He told me that with new technology and medical advances, most notably involving the promise of stem cells, that a whole eye transplant was not far off. Maybe only 10 years away. Well, to be a small part in making history was an opportunity I could not pass up, and especially given my mother’s history.”

The Challenge and Necessity of Eye Transplants

The eye is one of only four organs yet to be transplanted. One of the main challenges has been figuring out how to regenerate the eye’s optic nerve. Once that hurdle is overcome, the resulting nerve regeneration could help patients with spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s diseases.

The number of people who would benefit from a transplanted eye is staggering. Consider the statistics: According to the National Eye Institute, 8 million people could have visual impairment or blindness by 2050 in the U.S. alone.

Mrs. Pope hopes her gift will inspire others to give to support Bascom Palmer’s leading-edge program. Dr. Alfonso has no doubt that her participation will go a long way in providing financial momentum.

“The relationship between Mrs. Pope and Bascom Palmer has been enduring and long-lasting,” said Dr. Alfonso. “Her commitment to this project is a key endorsement, and her support will be truly transformational in moving this initiative forward. For Mrs. Pope, her support of a project has always been about how it can help the largest number of people and not herself. She is completely selfless in that regard, and it makes her extraordinary in the world of philanthropy.”

For her part, Mrs. Pope is very clear on what motivates her philanthropy.

“I do my homework and find out as much as I can,” she said. “I have to feel personally connected. It has to touch my heart. I want to know that my philanthropy can make a discernible difference, to truly make an impact on the ground in people’s lives.”

Tags: Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, Lois Pope, Lois Pope Center for Retinal and Macular Degeneration Research, philanthropy