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UI researchers honored for outstanding glaucoma research

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A team of University of Iowa ophthalmologists and vision scientists has received a national award for its glaucoma research findings published in 1997.

The New York Academy of Medicine awarded the 1998 Lewis Rudin Glaucoma Prize to the UI investigators for a paper titled, "Identification of a gene that causes primary open angle glaucoma." The prize, announced on Jan. 25, was funded by the May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation in New York.

The award-winning article was published in the Jan. 31, 1997 issue of the journal Science. The findings point to better ways of identifying and treating individuals at risk of primary open angle glaucoma, the most common form of glaucoma and the second leading cause of legal blindness in the United States.

The $50,000 award will be contributed to the UI Foundation to support further research at the UI into the diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma.

The research team was led by Edwin M. Stone, M.D., Ph.D., Wallace L. M. Alward, M.D., both UI professors in ophthalmology and visual sciences, and Val Sheffield, M.D., UI associate professor of pediatrics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Stone is director of the Roy J. Carver Molecular Ophthalmology Laboratory, and Alward is director of Glaucoma and Perimetry Services.

The UI team identified a mutant gene on chromosome 1 that leads to the vast majority of juvenile-onset open angle glaucoma cases and at least 3 percent of adult-onset open angle glaucoma cases.

The findings have been confirmed in a number of scientific publications throughout the world, said Thomas A. Weingeist, M.D., Ph.D., UI professor and head of ophthalmology and visual sciences.

Other UI collaborators on the project included John H. Fingert, graduate student in the Medical Scientist Training Program; Brian E. Nichols, M.D., Ph.D., resident in ophthalmology; Arne Nystuen, graduate student in genetics; and Darryl Nishimura, Ph.D., and Sara L. F. Sunden, Ph.D., both assistant research scientists in pediatrics.

The research team also included seven investigators at other institutions: Thai D. Nguyen, Ph.D., and Jon R. Polansky, M.D., University of California at San Francisco; Abbot F. Clark, Ph.D., Alcon Laboratories, Fort Worth, Texas; David A. Mackey, M.D., University of Melbourne and University of Tasmania; Robert Ritch, M.D., New York Eye and Ear Infirmary; Jeffrey W. Kalenak, M.D., Medical College of Wisconsin at Milwaukee; and E. Randy Craven, M.D., University of Colorado School of Medicine.

The work of the research team was supported in part by grants from the National Eye Institute, the Carver Charitable Trust and Research to Prevent Blindness.

Weingeist, who nominated the paper's authors for the award, said that this study and future studies will make it possible for researchers to develop inexpensive blood tests to detect glaucoma in individuals at high risk for the disease even before they show symptoms of vision loss.

"With early detection, sight-saving therapies are more likely to succeed," Weingeist said. "The research will help ensure that people at risk of glaucoma will never go blind."

He added, "I'm extremely pleased that the combined efforts of our investigators have been recognized by this national award."

A follow-up paper published by the team in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1998 described 16 mutations found on the previously identified gene. These alternations to the gene can lead to various forms of glaucoma.

All members of the research team will receive a certificate from the May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation. The Lewis Rudin Glaucoma Prize has been awarded annually since 1995 in honor of Lewis Rudin, a New York City real estate developer.

The May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation supports the work of individuals and programs in hundreds of cultural, educational and health care facilities in New York and nationwide. The New York Academy of Medicine, a leader in urban health since 1847, is an independent, non-profit educational and research institution dedicated to improving the health of the public.