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University of Iowa Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research Announces New Endowment for Human Retinal Engineering

April 13, 2015

Gift Advances Research to Prevent and Cure Blinding Eye Diseases

The University of Iowa Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research announced today two large steps forward in the battle against blinding eye disease. Both are made possible by a major gift from California businessman, photographer, environmentalist and philanthropist Howard F. Ruby.

The Howard F. Ruby Endowment for Human Retinal Engineering will accelerate the Wynn Institute’s effort to create living retinal grafts from patient-derived stem cells. The endowment will be used to purchase state-of-the-art equipment including a 3D printer capable of printing biopolymeric scaffolds on a sub-cellular scale, and to create an endowed chair in the new field of Human Retinal Engineering.

“This extraordinary gift from Mr. Ruby will allow the Wynn Institute to pioneer new areas of research and, ultimately, help people who have lost or are losing their sight,” said UI President Sally Mason.

The Wynn Institute was named in honor of Stephen A. Wynn’s widespread and longstanding philanthropic support of vision research. “Like Howard, I am a person who knows firsthand what it is like to lose vision from a rare inherited eye disease, and I applaud him for helping others with this generous gift,” said Wynn, chairman and chief executive officer of Wynn Resorts, Limited. “The researchers at the Wynn Institute are at the forefront of tremendous breakthroughs, and thanks to Howard, they can now move faster to find answers and, ultimately, help patients suffering from vision loss.”

Ruby is the founder, chairman and CEO of Oakwood Worldwide, and an acclaimed nature photographer. At age 65, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited, degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment. “The unflagging optimism of the doctors and scientists of the Wynn Institute is contagious; they truly believe that they will one day be able to rebuild injured retinas with stem cells and 3D-printed biopolymers, and I do, too,” said Ruby. “It is very exciting to be able to help bring this new field of medicine into existence,” Ruby added.

Mr. Ruby’s gift also provides funding to establish a laboratory dedicated to studying Usher syndrome, a genetic disorder that is the most common cause of combined deafness and blindness. The William J. Kimberling Usher Research Laboratory in the Wynn Institute will be named in honor of Dr. Kimberling, a leading researcher in Usher syndrome. Dr. Kimberling, who recently retired after a long and distinguished career at Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, also held a faculty position at the University of Iowa in recent years.

“Many of the diseases we are working to cure are so rare that for-profit strategies are unlikely to work,” said Dr. Edwin Stone, director of the Wynn Institute. “Large philanthropic gifts such as those made by Mr. Ruby and Mr. Wynn are allowing us to aggressively pursue treatments for all forms of heritable blindness regardless of the rarity of each individual condition. I am especially pleased that the incredibly valuable work of my friend Bill Kimberling will be carried forward in a laboratory at the University of Iowa that bears his name.”


About the UI Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research

The University of Iowa Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research was created to accelerate the eradication of heritable human blindness through interdisciplinary research, education and clinical care. The institute’s mission is to develop effective treatments for all forms of genetic blindness, ranging from very common conditions like age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma that affect millions of people worldwide, to individually rare but collectively common disorders like retinitis pigmentosa, Usher syndrome, Stargardt disease, Best disease, Bardet Biedl syndrome and Leber congenital amaurosis. Using a targeted research approach, and with sufficient resources, scientists of the institute are confident that many forms of heritable blindness will become treatable within the next 10 years, and that many patients who have lost vision from one of these disorders will be able to get some of it back.

MEDIA CONTACT: Dana Larson, executive director, communications and marketing, the University of Iowa Foundation; 319-467-3661; mobile 917-345-9841; dana.larson@foriowa.org.

For more information about the University of Iowa Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research, visit www.wivr.uiowa.edu.