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Casino tycoon gives $25 million gift to university to find blindness cure

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 21st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Seventy-one-year-old casino tycoon Steve Wynn has gifted the University of Iowa with $25 million. Visually impaired from an early age, Wynn says that the university is doing amazing things to cure blindness.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Wynn said last week that he gifted the University of Iowa after becoming convinced researchers there were leading the way in the search for a cure.

Diagnosed with a rare eye defect when he was in his twenties, Wynn said there was no hope then for individuals inflicted with diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa. This condition causes nighttime blindness and a lack of peripheral vision.

Wynn now believes it is possible that within his lifetime, scientists will be able to use stem cells to restore vision by growing new cells that are not defective and transplanting them into patient's eyes.

Wynn described how Iowa researchers have learned how to grow the cells and are testing them on mice, some of whom have been implanted with Wynn's cells.

"This is an exhilarating, quite exciting place. To a scientist, this is like going to a rock concert," Wynn said. "I mean there is stuff going on in these rooms here that, to put it in the common vernacular, is really far out."

The Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research has since been renamed to honor the $25 million gift announced by Wynn in August. The money will help the institute build a new laboratory to grow stem cells, hire more scientists and accelerate studies already underway.

Wynn credited business partner and director of his charitable foundation, Steven Dezii, with following research developments over the past 20 years. Dezii helped convince Wynn that Iowa could make the best use of a sizable donation.

"The rest of the world is waiting with bated breath for the kind of work you're doing," Wynn said. "To help keep the lights on in this institute has now become synonymous with keeping the lights on in people's eyes."

"Having your name on a sign is a cool thing," Wynn joked. His name already graces several casinos and complexes. He later made clear that it was the university's idea to have the institute bear his name as a way to bring positive attention and motivate other donors.

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