Waterloo’s School of Optometry & Vision Science has received University approval to move forward on plans to create the Waterloo Eye Institute (WEI) — Canada’s premier eye and vision care centre.

The WEI will leverage the expertise of the School’s faculty, its infrastructure and the power of Canada’s only English-speaking Optometry School to address the biggest challenges in vision science — that, along with the School’s ambitious $35 million dollar campaign making this vision a reality.

“With this state-of-the-art facility, we will be able to produce research of global impact, meet the growing demand for specialty eye care and deliver world-class optometric education,” said Dr. Stanley Woo, director, Waterloo’s School of Optometry & Vision Science.

Approval of the WEI signals the University’s strong commitment to advancing the frontiers of vision science. Working with international architect firm HOK, the two-story, 67,000 sq. ft. cutting edge WEI will be a combination of existing and new facilities, blending clinical patient-care spaces with education and innovation.

The right care, at the right time, in the right place

With a keen eye on increasing access to eye care for patients of all ages, the WEI will offer expanded specialty vision services here at home in areas of growing need — including low vision rehabilitation, ocular disease, dry eye, myopia control and vision therapy.

The new, modernized clinic will be the largest eye and vision care centre in the Region of Waterloo and will provide seamless, comprehensive eye and vision care for residents — from wellness, through surgery, to rehabilitation.

In the Region of Waterloo, wait times for cataract surgery are at an all-time high and up to 65 per cent of eye procedures like retinal surgery are currently performed outside the community. To help solve this problem, the WEI will also feature an ambulatory surgical centre with three operatories.

“The WEI will expand much needed eye and vision-care services and help bridge some of the gaps that exist in our community,” said Dr. Woo. “And best of all — they’ll be able to have convenient and coordinated access to exceptional specialty vision care.”

Complementing these services will be a tele-optometry centre — linking providers with patients in remote and underserved communities across Canada.

A global leader in optometric education and vision science

Boasting new biological sciences and ocular imaging research centres, the WEI will expand capacity to promote research from cell to society. Harnessing the “eye as the window to the brain,” researchers will have the opportunity to study and create treatments for vision, body and brain diseases such as diabetes, macular degeneration, glaucoma, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and stroke.

Clinical research capacity will have a permanent home in the WEI, expanding the School’s ability to direct clinical trials including medtech evaluation and development. Such high impact research creates the ideal training for future optometrists, as they experience the synergies that come from discovery through to translation and application.

“The WEI is a catalyst for a new era here at the School,” said Dr. Woo.  “We are excited to have our students hone their clinical skills in this innovative environment, which will ensure they are trained for the highest level of contemporary practice anywhere in the world.”

To date, $14 million of the $35 million fundraising campaign goal has been raised thanks to the support of the Canadian optometry profession, industry partners, foundations, friends, community members and the University.

The School anticipates construction will begin in spring 2022.