UM plans to study smoking illnesses
Researchers at the University of Miami will seek clues to the prevention and treatment of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over 60, and other intractable diseases like chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and stroke us
UM received 18 of 39 grants for a total of more than $7 million; investigators at the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida State University and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa got the rest.
Dr. Scott Cousins, an ophthalmologist who is director of research at UM's Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, wants to find out why macular degeneration is more common in smokers.
The disease affects about 14 million Americans.
No research has been done on the mechanism of the disease in smokers, Cousins said.
He will test the theory that toxic free radicals -- harmful agents in cigarette smoke -- injure the blood vessels of the eye.
Then he'll test therapies for the disease, which gradually robs the elderly of their ability to read, drive and recognize faces.
Cousins' goal, and the goal of many of his colleagues, is to use this grant to start research that will compete for funding from the National Institutes of Health, what School of Medicine Dean John Clarkson calls the ``gold standard'' for investigators.
``Americans are getting healthier, and our life expectancy is now longer than at any other time in our history,'' Health Secretary Robert G. Brooks said.
``Thanks to efforts such as this, a light of hope shines on our future through education, understanding and service.''
``An overwhelming response'' of 189 applications was evaluated for scientific merit by a peer review panel from outside the state, said Dr. Richard Bookman, associate dean of the UM medical school and a member of Brooks' advisory council on the biomedical research program.
The program, which seeks to ``improve the quality of the state's academic health centers,'' sets aside some grants for new researchers, recently recruited to Florida.
Dr. Daniel Liebl of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at UM is one of those new researchers.
He will study the role of genes following stroke injury to the central nervous system.
Stroke damages the connections through which neurons transmit information from the brain.
Liebl will look at molecules that could block those connections by scarring the nervous system. By removing the molecules from mice, Liebl hopes to figure out how to restore function after a stroke injury.
By targeting enzymes that signal a cell to grow and trying to stop them from causing uncontrolled growth, Dr. Thomas K. Harris Jr. said he hopes to lay the groundwork for chemotherapy that would kill only cancer cells.
Dr. Rosanna Forteza will study the causes of chronic bronchitis, a largely untreatable disease that plagues 80 percent of smokers.
She said she hopes to get clues on how to prevent and treat the chronic cough, congestion and shortness of breath brought on by the disease.