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University of Iowa News Release

March 2, 2005

UI Center Awarded Carver Trust Grant To Study Cleft Lip And Palate

The University of Iowa Center for Statistical Genetics Research (CSGR) has been awarded a three-year, $471,000 grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust of Muscatine, Iowa to develop new statistical and computational methods to identify genes influencing cleft lip and palate.

The grant will support development of a dedicated computer cluster and specialized statistical programming techniques, which will be used to analyze the complex genetic data required to precisely locate cleft lip and palate genes on a map of the human genome.

"These investigations will provide the most complete picture to date of the genomic architecture of this devastating birth defect," said Veronica J. Vieland, Ph.D., director of the CSGR, professor and head of the Program in Public Health Genetics and professor in the UI Department of Psychiatry.

The CSGR is jointly supported by the UI College of Public Health and the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

Cleft lip and palate is one of the most common structural birth defects, occurring in one out of every 500 to 1,000 live births. Correction of cleft lip and palate requires multiple surgeries, orthodontics and speech therapy, with estimated rehabilitation costs in excess of $100,000 per individual. In addition, higher rates of illness and death at all stages of life, as well as adverse psychological and social impacts, have been noted for individuals with cleft lip and palate. 

"It is believed that cleft lip and palate involves multiple genes in interaction with environmental factors. The condition also tends to run in families," Vieland said.

Although a number of studies have been conducted to identify the genes involved, the cause of the majority of cases is still unknown. As a result, researchers worldwide, including some at the UI, are now trying to collect larger quantities of genomic data from more families. 

Two UI researchers and collaborators on the Carver grant, Jeffrey C. Murray, M.D., professor of pediatrics and biological sciences, and Andrew Lidral, D.D.S., Ph.D., associate professor of orthodontics, are part of a multi-site data collection effort that is the largest study to date of families with cleft lip and palate. The study pools genetic data from more than 600 families from around the world. An additional collaborator, Mary Marazita, Ph.D., is at the University of Pittsburgh.

"One of the major challenges of the Human Genome Project is how to make sense of the massive quantities of genomic information it has generated," Murray said. "Through their new statistical approaches, Dr. Vieland and her colleagues in the CSGR are playing a major role in helping us understand and analyze this information. Ultimately, their work will help us to prevent or treat genetic disorders."

Vieland expects that the computational methods developed on this project can be subsequently applied to other complex genetic disorders, such as autism, schizophrenia and cardiovascular disease.

The Carver Trust has been supporting the UI since the trust began its grant-making activities in 1987, and it has made gifts to UI programs every year since that time. Carver Trust gifts and pledges to the university, in addition to gifts made by the late Roy Carver and his widow, Lucille Carver, exceed $109 million to date. The trust has distributed its generous support throughout the UI campus. In addition to gifts to the College of Education, the trust has supported the UI Carver College of Medicine; the UI Colleges of Dentistry, Engineering, Law and Liberal Arts and Sciences; UI Libraries; Hancher Auditorium; UI athletics; student aid; and other UI programs.

The Carver Trust grant to the UI's CSGR was made through the UI Foundation and is part of the UI's $1 billion comprehensive campaign, which will run through 2005 and is being conducted under the guidance of the UI Foundation. Named "Good. Better. Best. Iowa: The Campaign to Advance Our Great University," the seven-year effort is raising private funds 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.

The UI acknowledges the UI Foundation as the preferred channel for private contributions that benefit all areas of the university. For more information about the "Good. Better. Best. Iowa" campaign, visit its Web site at www.GoodBetterBestIowa.org.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa, 52242

MEDIA CONTACT: Kate Gleeson, 319-384-4277, kate-gleeson@uiowa.edu