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UW Health research team closes in on cure for blindness

Cycle for Sight helps raise money for research

UW Health research team closes in on cure for blindness

MADISON, Wis. - In a research lab at the McPherson Eye Research Institute, Dr. David Gamm and a team of researchers are looking for a cure and treatment for blinding diseases.

A few miles away, the Valentyn family is waiting and hoping that a cure can be found because it would dramatically change the life of their daughter, Kenzi.

"Kenzi was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when she was in second grade," Kenzi's mother, Nancy Valentyn, said.

Kenzi is now 28 and legally blind.

"She has gradually lost vision. She is no longer able to watch TV," Nancy Valentyn said.

The Valentyn family members have been passionate fans of the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team for many years. Their son, Brett, played four years for the team and the family makes it a point to watch every game either in person or on TV.

While her family watches, Kenzi now must listen to the games on the radio. Her dog, Angel, sits quietly by her side.

"I cross my fingers during the games," Kenzi said as she nervously listens to the game. "I tell Angel my dog to cross her paws."

Her family members had their fingers crossed that the work being done at the McPherson Eye Research Institute will one day find a cure and treatment for blinding diseases.

Gamm said the chance of that happening has changed dramatically in the last decade.

"Tremendous amounts of hope. If you look now at the different areas of research that are going on to address traditionally incurable, untreatable diseases it has exploded," Gamm said.

Working with a team of 160 researchers, Gamm is exploring gene and stem cell based therapies. But while technology will help to provide answers, the research team is also focused on how this could change lives.

"I think not a day goes by where I don't picture the faces," Gamm said. "There are faces that go along with the type of work that we do on a daily basis."

One of the issues standing in the way of finding a cure is sufficient funding for the research.

"Due to issues with regard to funding this type of research, as important as it is, it is difficult to raise the funds that are needed to advance it," Gamm said.

To help with that issue, the Cycle for Sight fundraising event was created. This year, the fourth annual Cycle for Sight event will be on March 14.

Continuing the work being done in the research labs at McPherson Eye Research Institute could change and improve the lives of approximately 100,000 people living in Wisconsin, including Kenzi.

"If she could get her vision back, that would open quite a new world for her," Nancy Vanentyn said.

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