Steve Wynn: University on path to blindness cure

by Ryan J. Foley
Las Vegas casino tycoon Steve Wynn, center, speaks with University of Iowa's Jean Robilliard in Iowa City, Iowa, on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013. Wynn was at the university for an event celebrating the new Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research, which received a $25 million donation from the chairman of Wynn Resorts Ltd. (AP Photo/Ryan J. Foley)

Las Vegas casino tycoon Steve Wynn said Friday that he gave $25 million to support blindness research at the University of Iowa after becoming convinced that its scientists were leading the way in the search for a cure.

Wynn, 71, said that university researchers were "knocking on the door" of a discovery that was unthinkable when he was diagnosed with a rare eye defect when he was in his 20s. He said there was no hope then for individuals inflicted with diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, which has slowly compromised Wynn's and causes nighttime blindness and a lack of peripheral vision.

Today, he believes it ispossible that within his lifetime, scientists will be able to use stem to restore vision by growing new cells that are not defective and transplanting them into patient's eyes. He spoke with amazement as he 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, the chairman of Wynn Resorts Ltd., told The Associated Press. "I mean there is stuff going on in these rooms here that, to put it in the common vernacular, is really far out."

Wynn spoke in an interview after hundreds gathered at the university for an event celebrating the Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research, which was renamed to honor the $25 million gift announced by Wynn in August. The money will help the institute build a new laboratory to grow , hire more scientists and accelerate studies already underway.

This photo shows the Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City, Iowa, on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013. The university named the institute after Las Vegas casino tycoon Steve Wynn to honor Wynn's $25 million donation, which will be used to accelerate work toward preventing and curing blindness. (AP Photo/Ryan J. Foley)

Wynn had few prior ties to Iowa, and Friday marked the first of what he said would be many visits to the campus. He credited his longtime business partner and director of his charitable foundation, Steven Dezii, with following research developments over the past 20 years and helping convince him that Iowa could make the best use of a sizeable donation.

He said the cutting-edge research makes his business pursuits feel mundane in comparison.

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

Dezii said he was impressed that the university was seeking to develop both gene and stem cell therapies for patients when most laboratories focus on one or the other. He said the university's multidisciplinary approach, involving everyone from biologists to surgeons to engineers, was also groundbreaking.

Wynn, who has hotels and casinos that bear his name around the world, joked that, "Having your name on a sign is a cool thing." He later made clear that it was the 's idea to have the institute bear his name as a way to bring positive attention and motivate other donors.

Steve Wynn, center, poses for a picture with his wife, Andrea Hissom, left, and a supporter at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013. Wynn was at the university for a ceremony marking the naming of the Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research, which has received a $25 million donation from the chairman of Wynn Resorts Ltd. (AP Photo/Ryan J. Foley)

Wynn noted that federal money for research has been tight in recent years and private donors are needed more than ever. He said he wasn't making the gift to help himself, saying he has been blessed with good care and a slow-progressing form of the disease.

At the same, he said he could see himself coming one day to have his replaced to restore his vision.

"They've got my cells in the mice!" he said. "There's 100 mice here that had my retinal cells and they are running around."

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denzelbrooklyn
3 / 5 (2) Oct 19, 2013
Good for them, bad for me. more peeps to call me butt ugly.
NikFromNYC
1.2 / 5 (9) Oct 19, 2013
Curing blindness is exactly the type of basic R&D that our contemporary era suddenly *shuns* in favor of a state sponsored doomsday religion. See that science building? Now sincerely let the following tax money numbers sink in:

Evergreen Solar ($25 million)*
SpectraWatt ($500,000)*
Solyndra ($535 million)*
Beacon Power ($43 million)*
Nevada Geothermal ($98.5 million)
SunPower ($1.2 billion)
First Solar ($1.46 billion)
Babcock and Brown ($178 million)
EnerDel's subsidiary Ener1 ($118.5 million)*
Amonix ($5.9 million)
Fisker Automotive ($529 million)
Abound Solar ($400 million)*
A123 Systems ($279 million)*
Willard and Kelsey Solar Group ($700,981)*
Johnson Controls ($299 million)
Schneider Electric ($86 million)
Brightsource ($1.6 billion)
ECOtality ($126.2 million)

*bankrupt

The governments of most Western countries have become Enron.
Mrtee
5 / 5 (2) Oct 19, 2013
I wish the article explained if these are embryonic or adult stem cells. It appears to me that there is a big political move to promote embryonic as the end-all of this research area; however it remains an outrageous scandal that though Dr. Carlos Lima of Portugal was restoring sensation and movement in spinal cord injured patients 10 years ago, not only is there no U.S.-based research in this method (using adult olfactory stem cells) there isn't even any news. The story was covered in 2004 on the PBS series "Innovation" and then apparently "spiked" by whatever forces behind the scenes decide these things.

California passed an initiative to fund $3 billion in stem cell research and a 34-member panel provided some to an embryonic spinal cord program which was for some reason suspended and there appears to be no media interest in pursuing why. Critics have suggested that the inherent instability of the embryonic cells was why. No news is not good news.
Matthewwa25
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 19, 2013
We need more investments into research like this.
Bombillo
1.7 / 5 (3) Oct 19, 2013
Steve Wynn appears to have a better grasp on reality than most of life's lucky wealth acquirers. Elon Musk is throwing away capital resources on such impossible ideas as commercial space travel. I can't wait to fly by some baron lifeless planet and spend 100 K for the pleasure. He ought to be fantastically successful and contribute mightily with that.
Neinsense99
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 19, 2013
We'll just see about that!
GuillermoV
4.5 / 5 (2) Oct 19, 2013
Kudos to Steve Wynn both for his business success and for his philanthropic support of medical science. And kudos too, to Elon Musk for his business success and for his farsighted support of the exploration of outer space. I suspect there are a great many people who would pay him and his company SpaceX $100k for a ride into space. I know I would.

Wynn and Musk are not "lucky wealth acquirers". They are visionary businessmen who made their money by providing goods and services that people wanted to buy. Our society is lucky that they were willing to dedicate their lives to providing those goods and service and put in the hard work that it requires.

And while Musk is already "fantastically successful" and has already contributed "mightily" to our society he has pledged to do even more by signing "The Giving Pledge" and promising to give HALF of his wealth to philanthropic causes. See http://en.wikiped..._Pledge. Thank you Mr. Musk.
Sinister1811
1 / 5 (3) Oct 19, 2013
Like everyone else here, I'm still not holding my breath. And I'm still a bit skeptical. They'll probably find some last minute excuse as to why they couldn't go through with trials or whatever. The world of medical research lately is full of promises, but fails to deliver.
NikFromNYC
1 / 5 (6) Oct 21, 2013
Uh oh...Drudge Report link to this page!
thefurlong
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 22, 2013
@NikFromNYC

Evergreen Solar ($25 million)*
SpectraWatt ($500,000)*
Solyndra ($535 million)*
Beacon Power ($43 million)*
Nevada Geothermal ($98.5 million)
SunPower ($1.2 billion)
First Solar ($1.46 billion)
Babcock and Brown ($178 million)
EnerDel's subsidiary Ener1 ($118.5 million)*
Amonix ($5.9 million)
Fisker Automotive ($529 million)
Abound Solar ($400 million)*
A123 Systems ($279 million)*
Willard and Kelsey Solar Group ($700,981)*
Johnson Controls ($299 million)
Schneider Electric ($86 million)
Brightsource ($1.6 billion)
ECOtality ($126.2 million)

...Aaaand that amounts to 2.728560981 billion
Gasp! A whole 0.017% of the U.S. GDP is spent on renewable energy research! Those crooks!

How dare they spend money on research to get us to stop relying on fossil fuels when they could be contributing even more than $72 Billion annually to fossil fuel subsidies.

http://priceofoil...1024.jpg
thefurlong
2.3 / 5 (6) Oct 22, 2013
" @NikFromNYC
...Aaaand that amounts to 2.728560981 billion"


Correction. It amounts to 6.984300981
billion. Mea Culpa.

I know, I know. Fixing that error reveals how just much the govt is breaking the bank on renewable energy research, what with spending 0.045% of the GDP on it. Oh, no...