CONTACT: JENNIFER CRONIN
2130 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-5661; fax (319) 335-9917
Release: April 27, 1999
UI receives $7.1 million NIH grant for continued cystic
fibrosis gene therapy research
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa College of Medicine
has received a $7.1 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes
of Health (NIH) to continue the study of gene therapy for cystic fibrosis.
The grant is a funding renewal from the NIH's National
Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The institute originally awarded $4.3 million
of support to the UI five years ago. Renowned cystic fibrosis investigator
Michael Welsh, M.D., professor of internal medicine and physiology and biophysics,
and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, will continue to lead
the research team, which includes five other investigators from four departments.
Cystic fibrosis is the most common fatal inherited disease
among Caucasians of Northern European descent and occurs in about one in every
2,000 births. Cystic fibrosis involves several organ systems, including the
lungs, sweat gland ducts and pancreas. Abnormally thick mucus builds up in
the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis and can lead to inflammation and
tissue damage. Although advances in treating complications of the disease
have increased the average survival rate to age 21, there is no cure.
Welsh has spent much of his career at the UI studying
the genetic causes of cystic fibrosis in hopes of developing strategies to
treat or possibly cure the disease. One promising approach, and the one for
which the UI received the NIH funding, is gene therapy. A genetic flaw causes
cystic fibrosis. If investigators can correct the flaw, they can perhaps cure
the disease. Gene therapy involves using a vector, such as a disabled cold
virus, to supply cells with healthy copies of the flawed genes.
The UI's $7.1 million NIH grant will fund three main research
projects. It will also fund three core facilities that provide the investigators
with reagents and model systems.
"The goal over the next five years is to better understand
the barriers that limit gene transfer to the lungs and then to discover novel
ways to overcome these barriers," Welsh said. "The investigators will collaborate
closely to develop several new approaches for inserting a normal gene into
cystic fibrosis lung cells. Ultimately, the work should lead to studies in
In addition to Welsh, the other UI investigators include
E. Peter Greenberg, Ph.D., professor of microbiology; Beverly Davidson, Ph.D.,
associate professor of internal medicine; Paul McCray, M.D., associate professor
of pediatrics; Jeffrey J. Smith, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics;
and Joseph Zabner, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine.