Visionary research chair to change the future of eye care

A $5M investment from St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation and Western will build capacity and provide ongoing support for innovations in research


Canada’s population is aging, and with that comes an increasing number of individuals living with vision loss.

It’s estimated that eight million Canadians are living with one out of four major blinding eye diseases—age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, or cataracts.

Investing in the future of eye care is paramount to saving the population’s eyesight. A $2.5M donation made by St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation, matched by Western, is establishing a $5M endowed research chair in ophthalmology. The chair will help build research capacity and provide leadership between the hospital and university to forge new discoveries in eye health and eye care.

The chair is named in honour of Marcel and Louise Brunette, who were remembered as a quiet, hard-working, and down-to-earth couple that held hands and preferred blue jeans to formal wear.

The Brunettes also enjoyed investing their hard-earned money. Because of the care they received at St. Joseph’s Health Care London throughout their lives, they left their legacy (a gift in their will) to the hospital.

The Marcel and Louise Brunette Research Chair in Ophthalmology will be held by the chair of the department of ophthalmology in the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western.

The possibility for this endowed chair first occurred to Dr. John Gonder, associate professor and ophthalmologist at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, more than 20 years ago. He credits Kim Spriet for the idea.

“She proposed the Run for Retina, which, over time has supported capital needs for the Ivey Eye Institute, and I thought how important a research chair would be to the future of the Institute and how we could create it,” he says.

Nearly two decades later, Gonder, with the assistance of other ophthalmologists in clinical research, was able to provide seed funding for the chair.

“This is an incredible collaboration between a loyal donor couple, a physician group, hospital administrators, the foundation and the university. It has created a tremendous level of support to advance research, scholarship and education and benefit the patients we serve,” says Dr. John Yoo, Dean of Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “We are incredibly proud of and grateful for this partnership.”

Dr. Cindy Hutnik, chair/chief of the department of ophthalmology has been appointed the inaugural Marcel and Louise Brunette Research Chair in Ophthalmology. Hutnik is an award-winning ophthalmologist, professor, and mentor.

Hutnik has a well-established research program at Lawson Health Research Institute in St. Joseph’s Hospital, which delivers strong clinical results. She is also known internationally as a clinical role model and leader. Funding will be used to recruit new research talent to expand the program.

The collaboration between Western and St. Joseph’s signifies that findings in the lab can be applied to future patient care in the hospital. This is more important than ever as the need for ophthalmological care is growing each year.