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Release: Jan. 22, 2003

Bok to hold Helen C. Levitt Visiting Professorship in 2003 at UI

Dean Bok, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology and the Dolly Green Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine, will serve during his sabbatical from UCLA as the 2003 Helen C. Levitt Visiting Professor in the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

The Levitt visting professorship brings outstanding scholars from other institutions to the UI to lecture, consult with faculty and students, and devote time to research or activities related to clinical care. A second visiting researcher, M. Anne Spence, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of California at Irvine, will complete the second part of her Helen C. Levitt Visiting Professor appointment from March to July. Spence, an expert in human genetics, taught at the UI Colleges of Public Health and Medicine last fall.

The professorship was endowed in 1997 with a $2 million gift to the UI Foundation from the estate of Helen C. Levitt. Levitt, a native of Sioux City and a 1932 UI graduate, generously supported many areas of the university prior to her death in 1996. She was a patient of Thomas A. Weingeist, Ph.D., M.D., UI professor and head of ophthalmology and visual sciences.

Bok will work with Gregory Hageman, Ph.D., UI professor of ophthalmology on the Oakdale Research Campus, in morphology and cell biology, and with Edwin Stone, M.D., Ph.D., UI professor of ophthalmology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, in molecular biology on age-related macular degeneration. He also will participate in the education of medical students, residents, fellows and others at the UI.

Bok earned a doctorate in anatomy from the UCLA School of Medicine in 1968 and has been a member of its faculty since that time. He has served as a trustee of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology and received the Friedenwald Award from that organization in 1985. He served as a member of the Visual Disorders Study Section from 1982 to 1986 (chair from 1984 to 1986) and recently completed a four-year term of service on the National Advisory Eye Council.

Bok's research interests involve the cell and molecular biology of the retina in health and disease. His studies involve the interactions that take place between retinal photoreceptors and the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and how those processes are affected by inherited mutations that cause retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration.

His contributions include the discovery of photoreceptor outer segment disc shedding, phagocytosis of these membranes by the RPE, the failure of this process in rat mutants (rdy), detection of membrane receptors for the RPE and release of retinoids by the RPE, transgenic rescue of inherited degeneration in mice carrying the rds mutation, and the modeling of the equivalent human disease in mice through the introduction of point mutations in the mouse rds gene.

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