UI Signs Third $1.5 Million Alcon Contract for Study of Blinding Eye Diseases

Thursday, October 11, 2007

University of Iowa News Release

The Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB), a joint enterprise of the University of Iowa College of Engineering and the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, has signed a five-year, $1.5 million contract with Alcon Research, Ltd. of Ft. Worth, Texas, a leading ophthalmic pharmaceutical research company, for research aimed at helping to prevent blindness.

The agreement is the third such UI contract with Alcon and represents an extension of a similar, $1.5 million contract for macular degeneration research signed in 2004. Also, a $1.5 million contract aimed at helping scientists better understand glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness worldwide, was signed in 2003.

Thomas Casavant, Ph.D., professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering and CBCB director, says that the latest funding shows continued confidence in the CBCB and a willingness to further advance the study of blinding eye diseases.

Terry Braun, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering and ophthalmology and visual sciences and director of the Coordinated Laboratory for Computational Genomics, says: "Recent advances in high-throughput molecular techniques combined with the clinical resources of the University of Iowa makes this an exciting opportunity which will hopefully put us closer to understanding blindness and developing treatments and cures."

The primary investigators on the project are Braun and Robert Mullins, Ph.D., associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences and director of the Chorioretinal Degenerations Laboratory in the UI Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration.

Braun is developing novel bioinformatics software tools to identify potential therapeutic targets and to accelerate mutation screening of candidate genes for glaucoma and macular degeneration, respectively. The software system will annotate and manage all gene-associated data, help identify and prioritize glaucoma and macular degeneration candidate genes and identify potential therapeutic targets. Professor Mullins will acquire tissue samples, perform gene expression profiling in ocular tissues from individuals with AMD and evaluate the expression of selected target genes in the retina. Mullins is also developing AMD models in model organisms for further study.

The project's interdisciplinary, collaborative team, located at the UI and at Alcon, will continue to use its expertise in human molecular genetics, bioinformatics, ocular cell and molecular biology, and histology, as well as access to a large pool of patients to screen for glaucoma and macular degeneration mutations.

The relationship between the University of Iowa and Alcon Research, Ltd. dates back to a 1993 collaboration with the UI's Molecular Ophthalmology Laboratory, directed by Edwin Stone, M.D., Ph.D., professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, which was extended in 1998 to include the Coordinated Laboratory for Computational Genomics.

The CBCB, directed by Casavant, is a high-performance computational and informational resource uniquely designed to help researchers learn about the molecular and genetic bases of human disease. In addition, the CBCB is working to facilitate development of interdisciplinary programs of study to teach professionals the skills of biomedical problem solving using modern computational methods. The center is jointly administered by the UI College of Engineering and the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and supported by the Office of the Vice President for Research. The center includes researchers from the Colleges of Engineering, Medicine, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Public Health, Business, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Nursing and the Graduate College. Also, the CBCB will work to cooperate with other units, including the UI Carver Center for Comparative Genomics and the UI Center for Macular Degeneration and other research support units such as Information Technology Services Research Technologies and the Carver College of Medicine's DNA Core Facility.

An outgrowth of numerous existing efforts in the fledgling area of bioinformatics, the CBCB builds upon over seven years of collaboration between the Carver College of Medicine and the College of Engineering in the use of applied computational science in the fields of genomics, genetics, molecular biology, and their applications for medical research. Such collaborations have investigated genotyping, genetic linkage analysis, gene mapping and other phenomena and have already attracted more than $35 million in external funding to the University of Iowa.

Alcon Research, Ltd. is an affiliate of Alcon, Inc. (NYSE: ACL), the world's leading eye care company. Alcon, which has been dedicated to the ophthalmic industry for more than 50 years, develops, manufactures and markets pharmaceuticals, surgical equipment and devices, contact lens care solutions and other vision care products that treat diseases, disorders and other conditions of the eye.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009, gary-galluzzo@uiowa.edu