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University of Iowa News Release

 

July 17, 2009

Blind cycling champion to lead UI's Project 3000 RAGBRAI team

A team of a dozen cyclists -- including a blind U.S. Paralympics track cycling national champion -- will pedal across Iowa next week to raise awareness of and funds for Project 3000, a University of Iowa-based effort seeking a cure for a rare childhood blinding eye disease.

Team Project 3000 will ride 442 miles, from Council Bluffs to Burlington, as part of the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). The team's inspirational leader is Clark Rachfal, a U.S. national medalist in track cycling who has been losing his sight since childhood and who has Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), one of the blinding eye diseases that Project 3000 seeks to cure. Rachfal, whose competitive cycling activities have been supported by the Verizon Foundation and by generous colleagues at Verizon, rides a tandem bicycle with a sighted partner.

The mission of Project 3000 at the UI is to find and offer genetic testing to the estimated 3,000 Americans with Leber congenital amaurosis, which causes severe vision loss or blindness and typically strikes during early childhood.

Genetic testing helps confirm the diagnosis, discover the genes responsible and lead to treatments and a cure. UI ophthalmology researchers are committed to this approach to finding the causes, cures and eventual prevention of LCA and -- through what they learn during Project 3000 -- other blinding eye diseases. Key partners in Project 3000 include Chicago Cubs star Derrek Lee and Boston Celtics CEO and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck, both of whom share a desire to find treatments and a cure for LCA.

The idea to form a RAGBRAI team to support Project 3000 originated with Paul Rosenthal, a Washington, D.C., attorney who is chair and a founding member of an advisory board to the UI Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration, of which Project 3000 is a part. The center is a unit of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

"I have had the privilege over the years of dealing professionally with numerous Iowa businesses and government officials, and as a result I have developed a great respect for this wonderful state," said Rosenthal, who manages the Washington, D.C., office of the law firm Kelley Drye and Warren. "One of Iowa's, and indeed the nation's, great treasures is the Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration at the University of Iowa. Because I have seen first-hand the enormous talent and dedication of the center's scientists and staff to their mission to find the causes, treatments, cures and preventions for inherited eye diseases, it is only natural for me to want to express my appreciation and gratitude by riding across the state on RAGBRAI."

As of July 17, Team Project 3000 had raised $35,000 in gifts for the LCA research and treatment effort. Each team member set up a personal online giving page to collect gifts from family, friends and colleagues via the University of Iowa Foundation's Web site, http://www.givetoiowa.org.

Overall, more than $1.5 million in gifts has been raised through the UI Foundation for Project 3000 since the project's inception in 2006.

"We are closing in on effective treatments for LCA, and the support created through this RAGBRAI cycling team will bring us even closer," said Edwin Stone, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UI Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "Paul Rosenthal's efforts to bring our team together, and Clark Rachfal's involvement, are both greatly appreciated."

For more information on the Team Project 3000 effort, or to make a gift, visit http://www.uifoundation.org/project3000/. To learn more about Project 3000, visit http://www.project3000.org. Those interested may also follow the team's progress on Twitter at Twitter@Project3000.

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 UI Foundation, visit its web http://www.project3000.org.

STORY SOURCE: UI Foundation, P.O. Box 4550, Iowa City, Iowa 52244-4550

CONTACTS: Mitch Beckman, UI Foundation, 319-467-3402, mitch-beckman@uiowa.edu; or Joseph Schmidt, UI Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at UI Hospitals and Clinics, 319-384-8529, joe-schmidt@uiowa.edu

PHOTOS:  A high-resolution of Clark Rachfal and his tandem bike partner, Dave Swanson, is available at:
http://www.uifoundation.org/news/2009/images/jul-ragbrai-hires.jpg

A web-quality image also is available:
http://www.uifoundation.org/news/2009/images/jul-ragbrai.jpg

PHOTO CUTLINE: U.S. Paralympic national track cycling champion Clark Rachfal (left), who is blind, and riding partner Dave Swanson, will ride across Iowa July 19-25 as part of Team Project 3000, which is raising awareness and funds for a University of Iowa effort to cure Leber congenital amaurosis, an inherited blinding eye disease.