$13.7 million in gifts support UI Center For Macular Degeneration

Gift commitments totaling $13.7 million -- including $10 million from the family of the late Roy J. Carver Sr. -- will fund three new endowed chairs at the University of Iowa, create a new genetics testing laboratory and rename the UI's world-renowned Center for Macular Degeneration.

The Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration (CMD) at the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine is being named in recognition of the overall gift commitment by the Carver family: Lucille A. Carver of Muscatine, Iowa, who is the widow of Roy J. Carver Sr., who died in 1981; John and Marcia Carver of Rapids City, Ill.; Martin G. and Ruth A. Carver of Muscatine, Iowa; and Roy J. Carver Jr. of Bettendorf, Iowa.

The renaming of the Center for Macular Degeneration for the Carver family is pending approval by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, at its next meeting March 20-21 in Ottumwa.

The $5 million portion of the Carver family gift that created and named the John and Marcia Carver Nonprofit Genetic Testing Laboratory (NGTL), and $1.2 million for the Carver NGTL from the Foundation Fighting Blindness, were previously announced by the UI on Feb. 3.

"The Carver family has long understood this university's strengths, capabilities and needs in many areas, but nowhere more so than in the health sciences," said UI President David Skorton. "This creative act of generosity on the part of the Carver family will enable one of the UI's premier centers of excellence to continue pursuing innovative research that holds great promise for all who have, or some day may be affected by, blinding eye diseases. This gift from the Carvers -- along with those from Gary and Cammy Seamans, Leo Hauser and the Foundation Fighting Blindness -- constitute a landmark for UI biomedical research."

The three endowed chairs and the faculty recipients are:

  • The Roy J. Carver, Jr. Chair in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, established with a $2.5 million endowment from the Carver family. This chair is a joint appointment in the UI Carver College of Medicine and the UI College of Engineering, the first time a UI-named, endowed chair has been shared by two colleges. It has been awarded to Thomas Casavant, Ph.D., professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering. Casavant directs the UI Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. The center develops computer-based approaches for accessing, interpreting and understanding genetic information as it applies to basic biological science and applied medical research. Among his research projects, Casavant and his colleagues are involved in studies of the molecular genetics of macular degeneration and glaucoma.

  • The Martin and Ruth Carver Chair in Genetics, established with a $2.5 million endowment from the Carver family. This chair has been awarded to Val C. Sheffield, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics in the UI Carver College of Medicine and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Sheffield directs the Laboratory for Disease Gene Discovery. Its goal is to identify and characterize genes involved in hereditary human disease with special emphasis placed on the study of hereditary retinopathies including age-related macular degeneration. The main strategies used by the laboratory are genetic mapping methods and genomic resources to identify disease genes based on their function and/or position within the genome.

  • The Seamans-Hauser Chair in Molecular Ophthalmology, established to support the directorship of the Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration with a $2.5 million endowment from Gary and Camille Seamans of Galena, Ill., and Tucson, Ariz., and Leo Hauser of Incline Village, Nev. This chair has been awarded to Edwin M. Stone, M.D., Ph.D., professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences in the UI Carver College of Medicine, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and director of the Center for Macular Degeneration.

"This gift from the Carver family will be very important to the work of the UI Center for Macular Degeneration in many ways," Stone said. "First, it will help us build upon our already strong group of interdisciplinary vision scientists and allow these scientists to accelerate their work toward a cure for a number of blinding eye diseases. Second, it will help us expand our model for nonprofit genetic testing laboratory to an international level. The combination of these things will bring hope -- and some very real help -- to countless patients affected by heritable blinding eye diseases."

Stone also expressed appreciation to Gary and Camille Seamans and Leo Hauser for their generosity in creating a third endowed chair for the Carver Family CMD. "These three people have played such an important role in the Center from its inception that it is a particularly wonderful honor for me to be chosen for the chair that bears their names," he said.

"Understanding a disease as devastating as macular degeneration truly requires the efforts of world-class physicians and scientists from many disciplines. Indeed, our work with colleagues in the UI College of Engineering and other colleges and units on campus has led to important discoveries in this area," said Jean Robillard, M.D., dean of the UI Carver College of Medicine. "With these generous gifts, the Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration will continue to lead the way in developing interdisciplinary approaches to study and treat degenerative diseases of the eye."

The Carver NGTL plans 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. The work done at the laboratory will strengthen the UI's interdisciplinary research efforts in the area of degenerative eye diseases.

The Carver NGTL will serve as an international resource for large-scale genetic testing for more than 100 forms of inherited eye diseases. It will continue and expand on the research done at the UI Carver Laboratory for Molecular Diagnosis, created in 1997 with an endowment from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust.

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The UI Center for Macular Degeneration was established 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 Carver Family CMD 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.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5139 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

CONTACTS: Steve Maravetz, UI Health Science Relations, 319-335-8033, steven-maravetz@uiowa.edu. Edwin Stone, Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration, 319-335-8270, edwin-stone@uiowa.edu.


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