The University of California, San Diego has announced a $50 million gift from Qualcomm co-founder and professor emeritus Andrew J. Viterbi in support of efforts to advance ophthalmology research, education, and eye care.
Inspired by Viterbi's father, who was an ophthalmologist, the gift will create six endowed faculty chairs and name the Viterbi Family Department of Ophthalmology and the Viterbi Family Vision Research Center. To be located on the La Jolla campus of UC San Diego Health, the center will house researchers focused on ophthalmological diseases as well as interdisciplinary research, including studies focused on curing glaucoma blindness, restoring the vision of those blinded by retinal degeneration, and providing sight to individuals who have reversible vision loss due to cataracts or infections.
Born in Bergamo, Italy, to Italian-Jewish parents, Viterbi fled with his family to the United States in 1939, where his father, Achille, struggled to restart his career as an ophthalmologist. "My father passed his medical license in Italy in 1905, then had to redo the whole thing in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1941," said Viterbi. "His career was truncated because of the racial laws of Italy's Fascist government. The restart was very painful, very difficult. I recently discovered a letter he had written to a colleague and friend in Italy after the war. And in it he was explaining that the medical association put a condition that newly licensed foreigners had to wait five years after they passed their medical license to get hospital privileges at first-class hospitals."
"Dedicated clinicians and vision scientists at the UC San Diego Shiley Eye Institute and Department of Ophthalmology drive change to make a difference in the lives of our patients and all those from throughout the world afflicted with blinding eye diseases," said Robert N. Weinreb, chair and distinguished professor of ophthalmology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. "This enduring and extraordinary gift by Andrew Viterbi will be transformative. Not only will it expand interdisciplinary collaborations across campus and the San Diego community, but also worldwide. Moreover, it will accelerate the pace of discovery and innovation of our vision research that is focused on preventing vision loss, restoring vision and, most importantly, curing blindness."
Known in the wireless communications industry for developing a critical algorithm that bears his name, Viterbi is the retired vice chair and chief technical officer of Qualcomm and currently serves as president of the Viterbi Group, a technical advisory and investment company. "If I were to estimate what percentage of my philanthropy went to education — K-12 through graduate schools and university research — I guess it would probably be three-quarters," he said. "Education is how anyone, immigrants in particular, or a child of sharecroppers in the South or any other modest beginning, can succeed in our society."
(Photo credit: Erik Jepsen, UC San Diego Publications)