FOR RELEASE: Nov. 28, 2006

GALVESTON, Texas — Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have received a generous contribution from a Jamaica Beach resident that will help them purchase vital equipment for their studies involving age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people 55 and older.

Sidney J. Wolfenson’s contribution will be matched by university funds to acquire advanced imaging equipment for Dr. Erik van Kuijk, an associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at UTMB who is working on the diagnosis and treatment of age-related macular degeneration, or AMD. Van Kuijk’s research has revealed a link between the distribution of macular pigment in the retina and the onset of AMD. He is a member of UTMB’s Macular Degeneration Center of Excellence, a team of researchers that aims to understand the mechanisms of the disease and develop treatments that prevent vision loss.

According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, this incurable eye disease affects more than 10 million people in the United States alone. The National Eye Institute estimates more than 92,000 Texans have the disease, the symptoms of which include blind spots in the central vision and fuzzy or dim primary sight. AMD is characterized by deterioration of the macula, the middle portion of the retina that focuses central vision and makes it possible for a person to read, recognize colors or faces and see objects in detail.

Van Kuijk’s research is examining AMD risk factors, some of which are known. For example, the chances of developing the disease have been linked to smoking and significantly increase as people age. The disease may also be hereditary. The new imaging equipment will be used for early detection of changes in biochemical composition in the retina that accompany the onset and progression of AMD and cannot be detected by conventional ophthalmological examination or photography. Access to the new imaging device can help physicians more effectively monitor the influence of therapy or lifestyle changes on the progression of the disease.

“We are grateful to Mr. Wolfenson for his gracious support of our studies,” van Kuijk said. “This imaging equipment will allow us to conduct more efficient research and therefore accelerate our ability to discover new treatments for stopping or even someday reversing the effects of AMD.”

Dr. Bernard F. Godley, professor and chair of UTMB’s Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, said the university is fortunate to have avid supporters like Wolfenson. “Much of the cutting-edge research conducted at UTMB would simply not be possible without generous benefactors like Mr. Wolfenson,” Godley said. “Thanks to his contribution, Dr. van Kuijk will have the scientific tools he needs to learn more about AMD, which could lead to the restoration of sight to millions of people.”

In addition to his recent contribution, Wolfenson is a member of the President’s Cabinet, a volunteer organization that provides unrestricted financial resources to help advance the university’s mission. The retired owner and founder of Wolfenson Electric Co. is also part of the Chancellor’s Council, an honorary society composed of individuals who remember the University of Texas System in their long-range financial plans. Wolfenson has been an active civic leader as well. He is a lifetime director of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and has served on the board of directors for the Houston Community College Foundation.

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
Public Affairs Office
301 University Boulevard, Suite 3.102
Galveston, Texas 77555-0144