IOWA CITY, Iowa – 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 vision and causes nighttime blindness and a lack of peripheral vision.
Today, he 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 patients’ 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.
Hundreds gathered at the university Friday 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 stem cells, hire more scientists and accelerate studies already underway.