Saving Sight for More than 50 Years

In 1960, the Missouri Lions joined forces with the University of Missouri-Columbia to form the Lions Eye Tissue Bank. The Lions provided financial support, and the University supplied equipment, laboratory space and staff. This allowed the "Gift of Sight" to become available in Missouri by providing the means to donate eyes, evaluate and distribute the corneas for corneal transplant surgery and utilize non-transplantable parts of donated eyes for research and medical education.

As corneal transplant surgery moved from an experimental technique in a university setting to a fairly common surgical procedure, it was recognized that a larger, "free-standing" facility was needed to serve university and private-practice surgeons alike.

The 1970s laid the groundwork for what would eventually become the Missouri Lions Eye Research Foundation. In 1972, The Eye Research Foundation of Missouri was formalized as a publicly owned, nonprofit organization.

In that same year, the Board of Trustees of the Bethesda Eye Foundation (BEF) in Bethesda, MD agreed to name the Missouri Foundation as its successor and contributed $850,000 to the newly formed organization. By 1974, the Foundation began construction on its new facility in eastern Columbia, using the BEF resources, $250,000 contributed by the Missouri Lions and six acres of land donated by Bryon and Gail Keene. The Missouri Lions Eye Bank moved to its current location and the Missouri Lions continued to support the eye banking activities while the foundation added several programs, such as ocular research, amblyopia screening and glaucoma screening.

At the 1987 State Convention, the Lions of Missouri voted to accept financial responsibility for all programs at the Eye Research Foundation, renaming it the Missouri Lions Eye Research Foundation.

The Foundation continued to grow throughout the years and in 1997 added eye banking operations in Illinois and Kansas. This prompted the creation of Heartland Lions Eye Banks, with the cooperation of the Illinois and Kansas Lions, which is now one of the largest providers of human corneas for transplantation and eye tissue for medical research in the world.

Although eye banking techniques and the Missouri Lions Eye Research Foundation have undergone many transformations over the past 50 years, our mission has remained the same: restore and preserve sight.