The University of Iowa 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. In August, 2013, the Institute was named for Stephen A.
Wynn by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa in recognition of Mr. Wynn’s widespread
and longstanding philanthropic support of vision research.
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, Stargardt Disease, Best
Disease, Usher Syndrome, and Leber Congenital Amaurosis.
The path to this ambitious goal will take advantage of the intrinsic interchangeability of
biological systems to create a series of “reusable parts” that can be combined in a wide
variety of ways to engineer effective treatments for every phase of even the rarest genetic
eye diseases. Philanthropic support will be especially important to help scientists work
across departmental, collegiate and institutional boundaries to develop these reusable
tools as rapidly as possible.
The University of Iowa Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research supports and
coordinates the vision research activities of 29 faculty members who work in eight
different departments and four colleges of the University of Iowa.
College of Medicine
College of Engineering
- Biomedical Engineering
- Electrical and Computer Engineering
College of Public Health
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
- Statistics and Actuarial Sciences
Using a targeted research approach, and with sufficient resources, scientists of the
University of Iowa Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research 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. The Institute’s pursuit of these ambitious goals are divided into three
Genetic Testing. A precise molecular definition of the cause of a patient’s disease is
critical to the design and delivery of treatment. The John and Marcia Carver Nonprofit
Genetic Testing Laboratory at the University of Iowa provides low cost, high quality
genetic tests for inherited eye disease for patients living in all 50 states and 60 countries
around the world.
Gene Therapy. Gene replacement therapy for inherited retinal disease has been a reality
since 1997, when scientists in Philadelphia and Florida first replaced a retinal gene
responsible for a form of childhood blindness known as Leber Congenital Amaurosis. In
collaboration with scientists at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, scientists of the
University of Iowa Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research brought this form of
treatment to Iowa in early 2013. The challenge now is to extend this approach to as many
other inherited retinal diseases as possible, as rapidly as possible.
Patient-derived Stem Cell Research. University of Iowa Stephen A. Wynn Institute for
Vision Research scientists are using patient-derived stem cells to pursue the goal of vision
restoration. After taking a small skin biopsy from the patient, skin cells are isolated and
reprogrammed to a stem cell state by artificially expressing four genes in a process first
described by Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka. The resulting “pluripotent” stem cells
are then differentiated into retinal cells to study the mechanism of a patient’s disease. In
the future, scientists are hopeful that these cells will also be usable to replace retinal cells
that have been lost to disease.