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University of Iowa News Release

Feb. 22, 2006

Bioinformatics Center Receives $600,000 To Find Genetic Causes Of Blindness

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 one-year, $600,000 contract with Alcon Research, Ltd. of Ft. Worth, Texas to study the genetic causes of two blinding diseases.

With the collaboration of Affymetrix Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., the total value of the experiment exceeds $1 million.

The project involves comparing the genetic profiles of individuals having glaucoma to the profiles of people with macular degeneration, according to Thomas Casavant, CBCB director and professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering.

"We will systematically examine the same 500,000 DNA locations in the genomes of 800 people -- 400 with glaucoma, and 400 with macular degeneration," Casavant says. "The largest such study previously done here at Iowa has been about 100 people. Usually, these experiments involve from one to 10 subjects, and available technology previously limited these studies to less than 100,000 DNA sites."

"The goal of this study is to implicate genes that may have a role in AMD (age-related macular degeneration) and glaucoma," says Terry Braun, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and ophthalmology and visual sciences. "This large genotyping study will complement the on-going research efforts between Iowa and Alcon that includes mutation screening, target validation, gene expression profiling, proteomics and ocular tissue resource development."

Casavant notes that the study will be one of the most comprehensive of its kind currently being performed worldwide, and the raw data generated by the experiment will exceed 2.5 terabytes. (A terabyte is a unit of computer storage equal to one trillion bytes.)

"Until about two years ago, that volume of data would have exceeded the combined capacity of all the disk space on all the 200-plus computers in the CBCB lab," Casavant says. "The data from these experiments could well identify many variations in genes associated with these two diseases. Indeed, the very name of this type of experiment is called a 'population association study,' and until a couple years ago, such an approach never would have been considered feasible."

The new study is in addition to a five-year, $2.5 million contract the UI signed with Alcon in 2003 for two projects investigating the genetic causes of glaucoma, with the goal of better diagnosis and treatment of the disease. The principal investigators on those projects are Terry Braun and Dr. Rob Mullins assistant professor of ophthalmology. Since 1993, the UI and Alcon have collaborated on leading vision-related research investigations.

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. The CBCB also helps develop interdisciplinary programs of study to teach professionals the skills of biomedical problem solving using modern computational methods. The center includes researchers from colleges and research units campus-wide.

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