This fall, hundreds of patients and friends gathered virtually for the 11th Annual Sense-ation! Gala to celebrate the successful conclusion of Mass Eye and Ear’s Bold Science, Life-Changing Cures fundraising campaign. Thanks to the generosity of loyal friends and supporters, the campaign raised $252 million to accelerate cures for blindness, deafness, and diseases of the head and neck.
Elevating Research, Patient Care and Teaching
Bold Science, Life-Changing Cures was launched in 2011 with the aim of raising major philanthropic support for Mass Eye and Ear’s people, programs and state-of-the-art facilities. The ultimate goal was to accelerate research to bring cures to patients faster. Thanks to the tremendous generosity of close friends of Mass Eye and Ear, the campaign’s impact has been both powerful and far-reaching.
The campaign’s influence has reached into every corner of Mass Eye and Ear, driving key milestones and groundbreaking discoveries in vision, hearing, and head and neck cancer. Some of the advances performed by our scientists during the campaign include:
- Performed the first FDA-approved gene therapy surgery to restore vision to a 13-year old boy with hereditary blindness
- Discovered a drug to restore partial hearing in animal models and partnered with industry to launch human clinical trials
- Discovered that high-dose statins can improve vision in dry age-related macular degeneration
- Identified a protective gene for Alzheimer’s disease
- Successfully cured a form of genetic hearing loss in a mouse model using CRISPR gene editing
- Uncovered a key mechanism that causes head and neck cancers to metastasize
- Performed the first corneal transplants grown from a patient’s own stem cells
- Developed several drugs to reconnect neurons in a mouse model of hidden hearing loss
- Began leading a trial on CRISPR gene therapy for inherited blindness, the first-in-human treatment of its kind in the world
- Launched an experimental vaccine for COVID-19
Additionally, 14 chairs were endowed for physicians and scientists at Mass Eye and Ear, and new research centers were launched in gene therapy, tinnitus and head and neck cancer. An endowed chair lives on forever, to ensure that whichever scientist holds that chair will be able to perform his or her important work. Also, two world-class surgical training laboratories were built to further ophthalmology and otolaryngology education and care.
When the campaign began, the original goal of raising $100 million seemed audacious to many. By 2015, Mass Eye and Ear had reached that goal and was still going strong. That prompted Boston Celtics CEO and Lead Owner Wyc Grousbeck, campaign co-chair and Board Chairman of Mass Eye and Ear from 2010 to 2020, to challenge hospital leadership to “double down” and target $200 million by 2020.
“We never would have predicted that we would exceed our stretch goal by more than $50 million by campaign’s end,” said Mass Eye and Ear President John Fernandez. “We also never expected that we would celebrate the campaign’s immense success in a year replete with such immense challenges.”
Campaign Culminates with Response to COVID-19
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, Mass Eye and Ear campaign donors came through in full force, giving several million dollars to seed the development of an experimental and novel genetic vaccine for COVID-19. Wyc and his wife Emilia Fazzalari put forth the first $1 million donation, and many donors soon followed.
This work is spearheaded by Luk H. Vandeberghe, PhD, director of the Grousbeck Gene Therapy Center and the Grousbeck Family Chair in Gene Therapy at Mass Eye and Ear.
“My wife and I wanted to do something to fight COVID-19, and we have total faith in Luk and the quality of his team,” Wyc told the Boston Globe in May.
The vaccine effort is a testament to what is possible when the Mass Eye and Ear community comes together to achieve a common goal and the vital role of philanthropy in advancing research and patient care.
Hope and Promise for the Future
The campaign has launched Mass Eye and Ear into a new era of medical and scientific discovery and put the hospital on a path to continue to lead through excellence and innovation for years to come.
Many of the trials that began during the campaign will continue. The basic science studies in animals will soon move to clinical trials thanks to the initial funding from donors, which turned into industry partnerships. Some of the clinical trials on treatments for diseases, such as inherited retinal disorders, will continue to be studied in the hopes they can be disseminated widely to patients.
Mass Eye and Ear is immensely proud of the life-saving and life-changing work that has been made possible thanks to the generosity of many. The impact of the historic campaign will continue to benefit patients, their families and millions of other people for generations.