Pivotal Moments Campaign will benefit research enterprise

January 30, 2015

Pivotal Moments: Our Campaign for Wayne State University is an opportunity to celebrate the moments that have defined our history and help to create new ones for our students, our university, our city and the world. Funds raised during the Pivotal Moments campaign will provide immediate resources to support students, faculty and research, with an additional goal of securing future moments through permanent endowment funding. Specifically, the primary areas of support for the School of Medicine during the Pivotal Moments campaign involve concentrations of strategic importance, including:

* Student success and achievement

* Academic excellence and faculty advancement

* Research innovation and discovery

*Community health and wellness

Each priority area has associated fundraising initiatives that will advance the school’s academic, research and clinical endeavors to improve the health of our communities.

The Wayne State University School of Medicine’s reputation for academic excellence is bolstered by our faculty members, who inspire, guide and mentor our students. These talented health care leaders serve as a critical bridge into the community, providing high-quality clinical care to the region, representing one in three of the “Best Doctors in America” in the metropolitan Detroit area. Additionally, faculty foster a robust learning environment, blending classroom, laboratory and clinical educational opportunities to provide students with the knowledge and experience that produces world-class physicians and researchers.

School of Medicine faculty members are also active participants in the research enterprise. Wayne State researchers have improved our lives in numerous ways, from advancing the understanding of science and biological functions to developing new treatments, therapies and protocols. While the scope of the school’s work is international, researchers play a vital role locally, investigating and addressing diseases and risk factors within our community. Fundraising priorities associated with supporting faculty will provide vital resources to fund exemplary teaching, patient-care and research, which is essential to the school’s ongoing success in recruiting and retaining leading-edge faculty and students.

The progress that Zhuo-Hua Pan, Ph.D., is making toward reversing blindness is an example of the substantial impact that a philanthropic partnership with the School of Medicine during the Pivotal Moments campaign can have for our future.  It is estimated that every five seconds someone, somewhere in the world goes blind. In 2010, the Edward T. and Ellen K. Dryer Charitable Foundation established an endowed professorship at Kresge Eye Institute to recognize a researcher who is making a significant contribution to artificial vision and restoring vision to the blind. Endowed positions are a major fundraising priority during the campaign, as they are among the highest academic honors a university can bestow on its faculty while also providing significant financial support that may be used to help fund research, equipment, salary or travel costs.

Dr. Pan is the scientific director of the Ligon Research Center of Vision, a multidisciplinary center of the Kresge Eye Institute and Wayne State University, made possible through the generous support of Robert and the late Gerry Ligon and family. He also holds the Edward T. and Ellen K. Dryer Endowed Professorship in Vision and Blindness Research, as well as a joint appointment as a professor in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology in the School of Medicine. This generous endowment from the Dryer Foundation supported Dr. Pan as he developed a novel strategy focused on genetically converting light-insensitive inner retinal neurons into photosensitive cells, thus restoring light-sensitivity to retinas that lack photoreceptors. Using a virus that delivers a photoreceptor gene from green algae called channelrhodopsin-2, or ChR2, Dr. Pan found that ChR2 made the inner retinal neurons light sensitive, and that this persisted for long periods in the neurons, ultimately leading to restored responses to light in the brain’s visual cortex.

In 2011, RetroSense Therapeutics LLC, a Michigan-based biotechnology company, signed a license agreement for Pan’s technique to treat blindness. The company is working to move the treatment from the laboratory to clinical application. The breakthrough therapy that Dr. Pan, along with colleagues at Salus University in Pennsylvania, has achieved could begin human trials next year, bringing hope to millions affected by blindness.

To learn more about Dr. Pan, the Pivotal Moments campaign and how philanthropy is helping the university excel in its educational, research and service missions visit: