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Release: Immediate

Regents approve UI Center for Macular Degeneration

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The State Board of Regents approved the establishment of the University of Iowa Center for Macular Degeneration at its monthly meeting Wednesday, July 23.

The center has been established for the study of age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of legal blindness in the developed world today. It affects approximately 10 percent of people over the age of 65.

The center is the first of its kind in the United States. While its main objectives are to determine the cause of macular degeneration and find a cure, it will also play an important role in patient care.

Currently, treatment options for people with macular degeneration are limited. Laser surgery can be used for only a small percentage of those affected. Even then, it can only stabilize vision, not restore it. Patients also need counseling and rehabilitation to help them deal with impaired vision, but private-practice doctors often do not have the time or resources to deliver those services.

Dr. Edwin M. Stone, professor of ophthalmology and scientific director of the center, says the center will address those problems.

"The mission of the center can be divided into three parts," he says. "To learn how to prevent the disease, to develop more effective treatments for patients who are already affected and to deliver state-of-the-art care in a timely and cost-efficient manner."

The UI has already established itself as a leader in macular degeneration research. For the past 20 years, UI faculty members have participated in the development of laser treatment and the study of macular degeneration at the cellular and molecular levels. Investigators at the UI have identified genes that cause three different types of hereditary macular degeneration and have discovered more than 100 specific mutations that cause macular disease.

The center will be a self-supporting program within the UI College of Medicine and will not require institutional funds for its creation. Current funding sources include more than $1 million per year from federal and private grants and a $3 million Carver Endowment for Molecular Ophthalmology, established in September 1996.

The faculty and research staff who will initially participate in the center are supported by research grants, clinical revenue, endowed funds and departmental salary budgets. Dr. Thomas A. Weingeist, professor and head of ophthalmology, has been named executive director of the center. Unit directors include Dr. Stephen Russell, associate professor of ophthalmology; Dr. H. Culver Boldt, associate professor of ophthalmology; Dr. Karen Gehrs, assistant professor of ophthalmology; Dr. Thomas A. Porter, an associate in ophthalmology; Dr. Gregory Hageman, professor of ophthalmology; and Dr. Beverly Davidson, assistant professor of internal medicine.