Roberta and George Stevens

Roberta and George Stevens.

A Vision of Generosity

The Boldly Buffalo campaign, which recently raised its goal to $1 billion, has empowered the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences to engage with donors, alumni and friends to raise funds that will enable Jacobs School faculty to advance the discovery and treatment of disease at an accelerated pace.

Roberta Stevens, BA ’70, MLS ’74, and her husband, George Stevens, members of the Boldly Buffalo Campaign Steering Committee, were inspired by this new goal to recently commit an additional $1 million to the Jacobs School’s Department of Ophthalmology.

“Research is a major component of our department and one of the main reasons for our success is the collaboration among our scientists and our supporters,” says James D. Reynolds, MD, Jerald and Ester Bovino Professor and Chair of Ophthalmology at the Jacobs School. “Generous and committed supporters like the Stevens provide the foundation upon which our world-class faculty build a better world.”

Longtime supporters of UB, the Stevens are building on their previous contributions to the university by adding to existing bequests (including one at the College of Arts and Sciences), which now total $4 million—half of which will be designated to the UB Department of Ophthalmology to research retinal and macular degeneration, a condition that has affected members of Roberta’s family and often leads to blindness. The other half will provide international educational experiences and other experiential learning opportunities, such as internships, to underserved students in the College.

“We are pleased to contribute to the Department of Ophthalmology’s research on retinal and macular degeneration, a condition that is going to affect more individuals as our generation advances in age,” says Roberta.

The Department of Ophthalmology at UB is making great strides in understanding the determinants of macular and retinal degeneration, in large part thanks to the work of John M. (Jack) Sullivan, MD, PhD, professor of ophthalmology; electrophysiology and hereditary retina specialist with UBMD Ophthalmology’s Ira G. Ross Eye Institute; and staff physician at the VA Western New York Healthcare System.

He and his team are developing therapies that target and suppress genes that stress retinal cells and cause them to degenerate. The molecular agents Sullivan is developing (ribozymes or RNAi), may also be used to alter the expression of normal genes to slow down the progression of age-related retinal and macular degeneration.

Sullivan, whose research is supported in part by a VA Merit Review award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and a National Eye Institute award, stresses the importance of donors like Roberta and George to furthering discovery.

“I am very grateful to Roberta and George Stevens for their bequest in support of research and improved treatments for macular degeneration,” Sullivan says. “Their generosity and foresight ensure that the Department of Ophthalmology will have the resources needed to pursue research discoveries that ultimately will provide a foundation for new therapies, hopefully in the near future.”

Roberta, a former president of the American Library Association whose career included high visibility positions at the Library of Congress, shares, “I am fortunate that I had a loving and supportive family. However, it was a family plagued by a history of macular degeneration. George and I are committing half of our bequest to UB to further research in degenerative eye diseases that especially affect the elderly. It is our hope that other UB graduates will show their gratitude to UB through donations and bequests, remembering the university’s role in their lives.”