Awards totaling $6.2 million to create major genetic testing lab at University of Iowa

Gifts to advance mission of UI Center for Macular Degeneration

The University of Iowa's Center for Macular Degeneration (CMD), a world leader in the discovery of the genetic basis of blinding eye disease, will be able to significantly advance its mission with the creation of a large-scale nonprofit genetic testing laboratory, made possible by two gifts totaling $6.2 million.

The new laboratory and the multimillion-dollar gifts endowing its operations were announced Feb. 3 at the national meeting of the Foundation Fighting Blindness in Los Angeles.

The lab will be named the John and Marcia Carver Nonprofit Genetic Testing Laboratory in recognition of a $5 million gift from John Carver's mother, Lucille A. Carver of Muscatine, Iowa. Lucille Carver is the widow of Roy J. Carver Sr., who died in 1981. The Carver family -- including John and Marcia of Rapids City, Ill.; Martin G. Carver of Muscatine, Iowa; and Roy J. Carver Jr. of Bettendorf, Iowa -- and the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust of Muscatine are among the UI's most generous benefactors.

The Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB), a longtime major supporter of eye research at the UI, pledged an additional $1.2 million to support the work of the new laboratory, which like the FFB, will help patients, physicians and researchers nationally and internationally.

Both gifts were made through the University of Iowa Foundation.

Over the next five years, the Carver Nonprofit Genetic Testing Laboratory (Carver NGTL) intends to develop a clinically useful test -- to be offered nationally on a not-for-profit basis -- for every gene known to cause an inherited eye disease, said CMD director Edwin M. Stone, M.D., Ph.D., UI professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

The testing conducted at the Carver NGTL will significantly strengthen the position of the UI's interdisciplinary CMD as a major international center for research and treatment of macular degeneration, glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa and related degenerative diseases of the eye, Stone added.

"I am absolutely thrilled that the Carver family name will be permanently associated with this ambitious nonprofit genetic testing initiative -- as well as with our research into the causes and our pursuit of the cures for blinding eye disease," Stone said. "The Carvers' support, and that of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, will greatly accelerate all of this work, and I believe that it will ultimately impact the lives of millions of people."

John Carver said, "When Marcia and I became aware of the great need for genetic testing in this country, and the exciting nonprofit strategy that the University of Iowa had developed for meeting this need, we felt that this was a wonderful opportunity for us to make a contribution that would help a large number of people over many years."

Steve Rose, Ph.D., FFB's chief research officer, said, "We are very pleased to join the Carver family in supporting this important national effort. We believe that increased access to genetic testing for inherited eye diseases is a critical step in the development of effective treatments for these diseases."

The Center for Macular Degeneration was created at the UI in 1997 by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa. It mission is threefold: to identify the primary causes of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and other heritable eye diseases; to apply improved understanding of disease mechanisms to the prevention of vision loss in the majority of people at risk, as well as to the development of effective treatments for those already affected; and to deliver the most advanced medical, surgical, rehabilitative and educational services available in a timely, caring and cost-effective manner.

The center has grown to include more than 100 individuals in eight departments and in four colleges of the university. With expertise in a wide range of areas -- including internal medicine, genetics, molecular biology, computer engineering, biomedical engineering and statistics -- the center's faculty and staff focus on genetic research and testing, which requires multidisciplinary and large-scale teamwork.

"I share the belief that genetic testing will play a major role in the development of improved treatments for human eye diseases, and I am very proud of the progress that our institution has made in this area," said Jean Robillard, M.D., dean of the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

"Over the next two decades, one of every three people over the age of 65 will be diagnosed with an eye disease that will threaten their vision," said Keith Carter, M.D., professor and chair of the UI Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. "The situation is compounded by the fact that during that time, the number of people over 65 will increase dramatically. The new Carver Laboratory will be a powerful addition to our fight against this impending epidemic of blindness."

Blinding eye diseases include macular degeneration (including age-related macular degeneration, or AMD), glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinitis and many others. Most of these diseases have significant heritable components, and researchers believe that the identification of the involved genes will help new treatments and new diagnostic methods to be developed.

The new Carver NGTL (www.carverlab.org) will serve as a national and international resource for large-scale genetic testing for more than 100 forms of inherited eye diseases. The new lab will build on the groundwork laid by the UI Carver Laboratory for Molecular Diagnosis (CLMD), created in 1997 with an endowment from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust. The CLMD has been instrumental for nearly a decade as a research facility offering not-for-profit genetic testing for rare inherited eye diseases. The new Carver NGTL, however, will allow UI scientists to offer testing for many more diseases than they are able to offer at present, and on an international scale.

The mission of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, which was founded in 1971, is "to drive the research that will provide preventions, treatments and cures for people affected by retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, Usher Syndrome and the entire spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases." FFB currently funds more than 150 research studies at 55 institutions worldwide, including 17 dedicated research centers. FFB trustees and volunteers in 30 chapters nationwide raise more than $16 million a year to fund FFB's research initiatives.

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The $5 million Carver family gift was part of the UI's comprehensive campaign, which concluded at the end of 2005 and was conducted under the guidance of the UI Foundation. Named "Good. Better. Best. Iowa: The Campaign to Advance Our Great University," the seven-year effort raised more than $1 billion in private gifts to help launch a variety of initiatives across the university, substantially increase the number of UI scholarships and endowed faculty positions, support new educational and research facilities, build the UI's endowment, and fund outreach and service programs to benefit Iowans.

CONTACTS: The UI Carver Nonprofit Genetic Testing Laboratory, 319-335-8270, www.carverlab.org. Writer: Forrest Meyer, 319-335-3305, ext. 661, forrest-meyer@uiowa.edu.

Web-quality images also are available: http://www.uifoundation.org/news/2006/images/mug-LucilleCarver.jpg
http://www.uifoundation.org/news/2006/images/mug-JohnCarver.jpg
http://www.uifoundation.org/news/2006/images/mug-EdwinStone.jpg


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