A 600-thousand-dollar grant will help researchers at the University of Iowa study whether there’s a genetic link between two major causes of blindness. Assistant Professor Terry Scheetz (sheets) works in the university’s department of BioInformatics and Computational Biology. He confirms they use powerful computers to help medical researchers identify likely solutions to their problems. In this case, a total of almost a million dollars will finance a computerized search into whether there’s a link between two diseases — glaucoma and macular degeneration. They’re analyzing the DNA from 800 people, to see where in their genetic structure are the “five or ten or a hundred genes” that predispose some people to develop macular degenration, or glaucoma. The research builds on the fifteen-year Human Genome Project that mapped human DNA, to find individual variations that may be linked to diseases, or link different diseases to one another. Doctors are the onezs who’ll recruit everyday people to take part in the study. They get DNA from blood drawn by the doctor, who’ll take it when a patient visits. That patient is “consented” there by their own doctor, told about the study and asked if they’d like their sample destroyed when the study is done. Dr. Scheetz is quick to say this isn’t going to replace clinical trials or hands-on research. The use of computers can’t replace experiments, he explains. Instead, it helps researchers make a good choice of what experiments should be done. Once this part of the research is done, they’ll know where to go search for the actual cause of the diseases which causes blindness. It’s exciting, he says. “I find myself thrilled to come to work every day, and I really enjoy the research.” Tis is part of larger, ongoing research at the U of I into genetic causes of diseases like glaucoma. Alcon, the sponsor of this part of the project, sells content-lens solution, other eyecare products and also funds eye health research.
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