Department History

The history of ophthalmology in Western New York parallels the founding of the University at Buffalo’s School of Medicine in 1846.

Dr. Lucian Howe, founder of the Howe Ophthalmic Research Laboratory, came to Buffalo just prior to the Civil War and introduced the practice of modern ophthalmology to the region. Buffalo was then, and is now, the main provider of tertiary eye care to the six-county area that comprises Western New York as well as parts of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Southern Ontario.

The modern era of ophthalmology in Buffalo begins in the 1960s. The university has a tradition of exemplary vision research performed by a steady stream of investigators in the basic science departments. Dr. Werner Noell’s groundbreaking research into retinal light toxicity in the ’60s — followed by the research of University at Buffalo faculty such as Drs. Robert Miller, Bruce Dow, Nick Leibovic, Donald Armstrong, and Arlene Albert — gave rise to a cohesive nationally recognized core group of active vision-science researchers including Drs. Malcolm Slaughter, Susan Udin, David Bender, Randall Shortridge, Joan Baizer, Deborah Walters, Peter Scott and Dennis Higgins.

The Department of Ophthalmology is now emerging as the driving force for vision research at UB.

Early Department History

In the 1960s and ’70s, there were three separate residency programs in Buffalo. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, this changed.

Dr. Thomas Guttuso, chair of the department and residency program at Erie County Medical Center, and a longtime dedicated UB faculty member, formed a single, unified university-sponsored program incorporating three strong clinical sites: Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, the Buffalo VA Medical Center, and the Erie County Medical Center, a large indigent care and trauma unit. This unified university program was the foundation of the present ophthalmology program.

Dr. William Coles was recruited to run this embryonic program. His tenure was marked by the building of a solid clinical and teaching department. He established a national presence in such organizations as AUPO, serving as president.

After 10 years of service, Dr. Coles stepped down. This was an opportunity for the department to take the next step forward, adding a research element to its solid clinical and teaching successes.

Recent Department History

In July of 1998, Dr. James Reynolds was selected as the permanent chair.

This selection was made for two main reasons: Dr. Reynolds’ proven administrative success at building a strong division of pediatric ophthalmology and his proven academic track record, including a long history of extramural NIH funding. Leading by example, he has fostered an atmosphere to nurture and expand the department’s research mission.

Central to Dr. Reynolds’ vision of the department has been the creation of the Ira G. Ross Eye Institute. It is is now a reality, having been created in 2004 as an institute within the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The mission of the institute is research, education and clinical service. Its establishment  within the medical school — with the cooperation of the university faculty practice plan, the University at Buffalo Foundation, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus along and a nationally unique collaboration with the Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted, MD, Center for Sight — the innovative local blind association — has created a world-class center of excellence.

The institute consists of a free-standing clinical facility, newly built in 2007 and located within the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus adjoining the Olmsted Center, as well as a dynamic program of research located at both the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the medical school, including our Ross Eye Institute Vision Research Center within the Buffalo VA Medical Center.