CONTACT: GARY GALLUZZO
300 Plaza Centre One
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0009; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Jan. 21, 2003
UI bioinformatics center signs five-year, $1.5 million contract with Alcon
The Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB), a joint enterprise
of the University of Iowa College of Engineering and the 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, Tex., a leading ophthalmic pharmaceutical
research company, for two projects to help scientists better understand glaucoma,
a leading cause of blindness worldwide.
Thomas Casavant, CBCB director and professor of electrical and computer engineering
and biomedical engineering, says that the two projects represent an interdisciplinary
effort to identify the causes of glaucoma, which will lead to better diagnosis
and treatment of the disease.
The first project, whose principal investigator is Terry Braun, assistant
professor of biomedical engineering and ophthalmology and visual sciences,
involves developing a novel bioinformatics system to identify potential glaucoma
therapeutic targets and to accelerate mutation screening of glaucoma candidate
genes. This new system will annotate and manage all gene-associated data,
help identify and prioritize glaucoma candidate genes and identify potential
Casavant says that the project's interdisciplinary, collaborative team, located
at the UI and at Alcon, has the necessary expertise in human molecular genetics,
bioinformatics and ocular cell and molecular biology, as well as access to
a large pool of patients to screen for glaucoma mutations. "The unique
opportunity is to use our cumulative knowledge and experience of identifying
differentially expressed genes and finding mutations to build an expert bioinformatics
system that accesses heterogeneous data, extending current techniques with
unique software automation," he says.
The second project, whose principal investigator is Dr. Beverly Davidson,
professor of internal medicine, involves gene transfer to discover and characterize
pathways involved in human glaucoma. Project goals include developing viral
vectors for expressing normal and/or mutant genes thought to be involved in
glaucoma so that their function can be studied in cell and tissue culture.
These viral vectors will be used to validate glaucoma candidate genes and
potential new therapeutic targets in the tissues and cells associated with
glaucoma. These experiments could help form the basis for future human glaucoma
The relationship between the University of Iowa and Alcon Research, Ltd.
dates back to a 1993 collaboration with the UIs Molecular Ophthalmology
Laboratory (MOL), directed by Dr. Edwin Stone, which was extended in 1998
to include the Coordinated Laboratory for Computational Genomics (CLCG).
This has been a terrific example of a very successful, long-term collaboration
between academic and industry scientists. We have common goals and complement
each others expertise, which will lead to the discovery of better ways
for diagnosing and treating glaucoma, says Dr. Abbot Clark, Sr., director
of Glaucoma Therapeutic Target Research at Alcon.
The CBCB 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 worlds
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.