Researcher hopes to see results through federally funded ISU, UI collaboration

AMES, Iowa - An Iowa State University researcher has been named one of the lead investigators and head of animal research for the United States Veterans Affairs Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Visual Loss.

Dr. Sinisa Grozdanic, assistant professor at Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, will lead ISU's efforts as part of a $5 million federal grant -- $1 million each for the next five years -- that will focus on preventing and curing visual impairments.

The VA-funded center comprises researchers from Iowa State University; the VA Medical Center, Iowa City; the University of Iowa and other leading institutions from around the nation. They will focus on visual impairments caused by traumatic brain and optic nerve injury, treatment of visual loss due to chronic neurodegenerative diseases and an advanced telemedical detection of eye disease. Telemedical detection uses computer assessments and three-dimensional imaging.

This is the first such center for translational medicine at Iowa State that is funded by federal dollars, according to Grozdanic.

Translational medicine - taking what you learn from one species and applying it to others - is a focus that Grozdanic believes will be helpful.

"It is part of a one-medicine principle," Grozdanic said. "Successful treatments in animal patients are frequently the very first step towards new treatments in human patients. Many of the treatments and solutions are the same, which further highlights the fact that we are not so different from our animal patients. Sometimes the only difference is that my patients just have four legs.""

Joining Grozdanic from Iowa State University will be Matt Harper, Anumantha Kanthasamy and Tatjana Lazic, all from the College of Veterinary Medicine; and Don Sakaguchi from the department of genetics, development and cell biology.

The overall program will be directed by Dr. Randy Kardon, who is affiliated with the Iowa City Veterans Administration Medical Center and also director of neuro-ophthalmology and professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the U of I Carver College of Medicine. At the UI, Kardon also holds the Pomerantz Family Chair in Ophthalmology and is a retinal specialist with the Iowa City VAMC. The associate director of the center is Dr. Michael Abramoff, associate professor of ophthalmology at the VA and the U of I. Seventeen additional doctors and researchers from the UI will also be part of the center, along with nine additional collaborators from around the country.

"It's a great opportunity to bring all these people together under the same umbrella," said Grozdanic. "We have common objectives, common goals, and since we are working together on these problems, it guarantees that success is much more likely and will come much faster."

The Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Visual Loss will be located in a new VA Medical Center research building that is currently under construction in Iowa City. Translational animal studies will be performed at Iowa State University.

Many researchers associated with the new center have worked together in the past.

"We've been extremely successful as a group of people who have collaborated on individual projects," he said. "There was a need to put everyone in a collaborative group working together and sharing ideas, so development of new treatments for blinding disease can be accelerated."

The VA hopes to learn how to prevent and treat visual impairments in older veterans caused by age. In younger veterans, visual loss is more often caused by trauma or nerve damage, and the VA hopes to learn how to avoid and treat these causes, too.

Grozdanic hopes his work with animals will be a key part of the research.

"Since the life span of a majority of animal species is much shorter than a human's, you see progression of diseases much faster. You can also see effectiveness of the therapy much faster," he said. "It is a very good translational step before applying the same approach to human patients."