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The renaissance of East Baltimore will reach a milestone Wednesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newest building on the Johns Hopkins medical campus, a $105 million research and surgical building for the Wilmer Eye Institute.

The Robert H. and Clarice Smith Building, named for its lead donors, contains a first-floor surgical pavilion with six ophthalmic operating rooms that will enable Hopkins surgeons to perform 50 percent more procedures each day.

It also has five levels of research space, more than doubling the amount devoted to one of the country's largest eye-related research programs, and quadrupling the research space at Wilmer dedicated to age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness among Americans 55 and older.

Located at 400 N. Broadway, near where a Sheraton hotel once stood, the six-story, 207,000-square-foot Smith building is the first to be finished as part of Hopkins' $1 billion medical campus expansion, slated for completion by mid-2011. Still under construction are a children's hospital and an adult hospital, both on Orleans Street between Broadway and Wolfe Street.

The Smith building was designed by Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore to be an extension of the Wilmer building, which dates from 1889 and is one of the oldest structures on Hopkins' East Baltimore campus. Part of the new building is clad in glass and angled to reflect the dome of the older Wilmer building on the opposite side of Broadway.

During Wednesday's event, Wilmer's lead donors will receive ceremonial keys to the building from its contractor. Researchers and patients will begin using the building this summer, and a formal dedication will be held Oct. 16.

"This is a new beginning for the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins and the more than 14,000 patients that come annually to receive sight-saving operations from its world-renowned medical staff," said Edward Miller, dean of the medical faculty at the Johns Hopkins University and chief executive officer of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The additional research space will give Wilmer room to increase the sheer "brainpower' on campus by hiring at least five new senior investigators, who typically will each have 10 to 20 junior investigators, officials say.

The expansion will "allow us to recruit the brightest new scientists from around the world," said Peter J. McDonnell, director and William Holland Wilmer Professor of Ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute. "This new talent pool will expand our expertise in the areas of retinal degenerations, cataract, corneal disease, glaucoma, biomedical engineering, tissue regeneration and therapeutics development. The new building has allowed us to dream bigger than ever and to envision a future where nothing is impossible."

For the past 18 years, Johns Hopkins Hospital has been ranked America's best hospital by U.S. News & World Report magazine. The Wilmer Eye Institute is currently ranked as having the nation's second best department of ophthalmology by the same publication. Wilmer receives more National Institutes of Health funding for its research than any other opthalmology department in the United States, according to industry journals and the institute's Web site.

Besides the surgical pavilion and research space, the Smith building will house works by noted artists who were treated as patients at the Wilmer institute.

Wolf Kahn, a New York-based landscape artist and former patient, has offered 16 paintings on extended loan for display in the surgical waiting area. And sculptor John Safer has created a 36-foot, six-ton stainless steel sculpture entitled Quest for the atrium.

After being diagnosed with macular degeneration and cataracts, Safer was treated by former Wilmer Eye Institute director Morton Goldberg and eye surgeon Oliver Schein. "Quest, which resembles a strand of DNA, truly symbolizes Wilmer's mission of seeking new knowledge in the battle against vision loss," Goldberg said.

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