Philanthropists donate $5 million for retinal research

Gavin and Ninetta Herbert pursue their vision for improving eye health with their estate gift

November 16, 2016
Allergan founder Gavin Herbert and his wife, Ninetta, have pledged $5 million to advance retinal research at UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, the academic eye care center named in his honor.
Gavin and Ninetta Herbert have committed a $5-million estate gift to UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute to expand the breadth and depth of research into the retina. Photo courtesy of Gavin and Ninetta Herbert.

Irvine, Calif. — Allergan founder Gavin Herbert and his wife, Ninetta, have pledged $5 million to advance retinal research at UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, the academic eye care center named in his honor.

"As longtime champions of the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, the Herberts have shown that community leaders can have an indelible impact on academic medicine and the future of healthcare," said Dr. Michael J. Stamos, interim dean of the UC Irvine School of Medicine. "We are grateful for this generous estate gift, which makes possible future investigations that may explore ideas we cannot even imagine today."

The gift from the couple is dedicated to expanding the breadth and depth of research into the retina, the part of the eye responsible for converting light into the images that are transmitted to the brain. The retina is associated with such conditions as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and retinal detachment.

Groundbreaking research is a hallmark of the eye institute, where physicians and scientists are making steady progress toward eradicating preventable blindness. At any given time, there are 25 to 30 investigations underway.

They address diverse aspects of eye health — from engineering an artificial cornea and preserving sight in patients with retinitis pigmentosa to improving treatment for blepharospasms (uncontrollable eyelid muscle contractions) and developing a promising solution for dry age-related macular degeneration, or retinal atrophy.

"Orange County has long been recognized as an international hub for eye care companies," Gavin Herbert said. "Many people worked long years to complement industry with a world-class academic eye center that would be an innovative partner and also provide the highest quality of care for the community. With that now in place at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, our gift will sustain the research that is vital to the institute’s long-term reputation as a global leader."

In 2007, the Herberts and his mother, Josephine Herbert Gleis, provided the initial naming gift for the institute envisioned as Orange County's hub of eye care and research. Gavin Herbert went on to inspire many local ophthalmology companies and individuals to contribute to the institute’s new home, serving as a major force in funding construction of the $39-million building entirely through private philanthropy. He also introduced founding director Dr. Roger F. Steinert to the Orange County ophthalmology community, leading to Steinert’s eventual move from a Harvard Medical School professorship to chair the UC Irvine Department of Ophthalmology.

Herbert was the first president of the Chancellor's Club, a community of UC Irvine alumni, parents, faculty and friends who have made a commitment to invest in areas that further university excellence in academics, research and service. He has received the campus’s highest honor, the UCI Medal, for his bold vision and support.

Gavin Herbert Eye Institute: The faculty of internationally recognized physicians, surgeons and scientists at the institute and the Department of Ophthalmology provide highly specialized training to future ophthalmologists, access to leading-edge clinical trials as well as sight-saving treatments and therapies for many eye disorders. The institute's mission is to develop educational programs, technologies and clinical solutions that enhance visual health and performance for people in Orange County, the nation and the world through cooperation with medical professionals, industry and the community. Visit for more information.

UCI Health: UCI Health comprises the clinical, medical education and research enterprises of the University of California, Irvine. Patients can access UCI Health at physician offices throughout Orange County and at its main campus, UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, Calif., home to a 411-bed acute care hospital that provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, and behavioral health and rehabilitation services. U.S. News & World Report has listed it among America’s Best Hospitals for 16 consecutive years. The medical center also is home to Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, a high-risk perinatal/neonatal program, Level I trauma center and Level II pediatric trauma center. It also is the primary teaching campus for the School of Medicine. UCI Health serves a region of more than 3 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County.

University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UC Irvine is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UC Irvine has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. The university is located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UC Irvine, visit