Notable philanthropist devoted to research establishes endowed, internal grant program at School of Medicine and Kresge Eye Institute

Inspired by her late husband's model of giving, Waltraud "Wally" Prechter is known for making a powerful impact through her philanthropy. Wally's generous gift of $1 million creates the Prechter Family Endowed Fund, providing critical resources for the existing Translational Research Innovation Grant (TRIG) program at the Kresge Eye Institute and the Wayne State University School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology, Visual and Anatomical Sciences (OVAS).

"Heinz said that if you believe in it, you should support its success," she said.

Kresge Eye Institute (KEI) is one of the nation's premier medical centers for the preservation of sight. As a part of the School of Medicine, KEI brings its clinical ophthalmologists into a close working relationship with the vision scientists of OVAS to promote innovative research in their field. The joint organizations serve as national leaders in the study and treatment of cataracts, corneal disease, glaucoma, oculoplastic and reconstructive surgery, diabetic retinopathy, retinal diseases and neuro-ophthalmologic diseases.

The TRIG program challenges clinical faculty and full-time research scientists to design new ideas for translational, or bench-to-bedside research in ophthalmic health. Over time, three focus groups have formed as a way to establish dialogue and facilitate ideas: a team studying the retina is working on a new treatment for proliferative vitreoretinopathy, another on inflammation and immunology concerns that can influence diseases, and the final group concentrating on diabetic retinopathy and biomarkers that may provide clues on how to prevent it.

Wally's unique endowed fund will be both strategic and significant for vision research at the School of Medicine and KEI because it supports novel projects from their very conception. Ideas originating from the focus groups are eligible for departmentally funded grants from the TRIG program, and these grant dollars are used to refine the selected projects before submission to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Eye Institute (NEI) or other research funding organizations. Priority is given to applications which are translational in nature.

Before Wally's endowed contribution, the department had the resources to fund one or two grants each year at most. The Prechter Family Endowed Fund will fund grants in perpetuity, providing an outstanding opportunity for KEI and the School of Medicine to explore past the boundaries of current scientific understanding.

"Innovative, translational research is especially important to me, and I have a long-standing history of supporting it. Seed money before R01 and NIH grants is hard to come by, so these grants offer an incentive for stimulating ideas. I hope to inspire others to give to ambitious, out-of-the-box research," Wally said.

Wally established the Prechter Family Endowed Fund as a tribute to professor Gary W. Abrams, M.D., a vitreoretinal surgeon recognized for both surgical innovation and teaching. From 1994 to 2011, Dr. Abrams was chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine and director of Kresge Eye Institute, holding the David Barsky, M.D. Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology.

"Dr. Abrams is well-known on an international level for his research and surgical expertise. I hope that this gift can make a difference from the very beginning of research for him, and his talented colleagues. I wanted to do something to honor his legacy, and KEI is the right place. I served on its Board of Visitors and their work is important, as we need more solutions for vision concerns," Wally said.

Throughout his career, Dr. Abrams has been a leader in the development of surgical techniques for repair of complex retinal detachments. Wally came to know his work as a patient in the 1980's and 1990's. Dr. Abrams's retinal surgeries allow her to see without any form of glasses.

"I am touched by Mrs. Prechter's generosity and of her thinking of me. The Prechter Family Endowed Fund supports early research that can lead to treatments for severe, currently untreatable eye diseases. I believe this gift will be a valuable step in providing relief for patients all over the world," Dr. Abrams said.

There are often more innovative ideas for research than dollars allocated to support them, but Wally's philanthropic partnership ensures that KEI and OVAS have much needed preliminary resources for investigation now and for many years to come. By providing specially designated funds for the TRIG program, gifted researchers in the clinic and laboratory can continue to ask questions and look for answers to ensure that all patients, even those with the most complex vision problems, receive the most effective treatment available anywhere.

To learn more about how to support the School of Medicine, the Department of Ophthalmology, Visual and Anatomical Sciences and Kresge Eye Institute, please contact Alan Tolcher at

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