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Buzz2012  GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new gene therapy method developed by University of Florida researchers has the potential to treat a common form of blindness that strikes both youngsters and adults. The technique works by replacing a malfunctioning gene in the eye with a normal working copy that supplies a protein necessary for light-sensitive cells in the eye to function. The findings are published today (Monday, Jan. 23) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online.

Several complex and costly steps remain before the gene therapy technique can be used in humans, but once at that stage, it has great potential to change lives.

“Imagine that you can’t see or can just barely see, and that could be changed to function at some levels so that you could read, navigate, maybe even drive — it would change your life considerably,” said study co-author William W. Hauswirth, Ph.D., the Rybaczki-Bullard professor of ophthalmology in the UF College of Medicine and a professor and eminent scholar in department of molecular genetics and microbiology and the UF Genetics Institute. “Providing the gene that’s missing is one of the ultimate ways of treating disease and restoring significant visual function.”

The researchers tackled a condition called X-linked retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic defect that is passed from mothers to sons. Girls carry the trait, but do not have the kind of vision loss seen among boys. About 100,000 people in the U.S. have a form of retinitis pigmentosa, which is characterized by initial loss of peripheral vision and night vision, which eventually progresses to tunnel vision, then blindness. In some cases, loss of sight coincides with the appearance of dark-colored areas on the usually orange-colored retina.

The UF researchers previously had success pioneering the use of gene therapy in clinical trials to reverse a form of blindness known as Leber’s congenital amaurosis. About 5 percent of people who have retinitis pigmentosa have this form, which affects the eye’s inner lining.

“That was a great advance, which showed that gene therapy is safe and lasts for years in humans, but this new study has the potential for a bigger impact, because it is treating a form of the disease that affects many more people,” said John G. Flannery, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology at the University of California, Berkeley who is an expert in the design of viruses for delivering replacement genes. Flannery was not involved in the current study.

The X-linked form of retinitis pigmentosa addressed in the new study is the most common, and is caused by degeneration of light-sensitive cells in the eyes known as photoreceptor cells. It starts early in life, so though affected children are often born seeing, they gradually lose their vision.

“These children often go blind in the second decade of life, which is a very crucial period,” said co-author Alfred S. Lewin, Ph.D., a professor in the UF College of Medicine department of molecular genetics and microbiology and a member of the UF Genetics Institute. “This is a compelling reason to try to develop a therapy, because this disease hinders people’s ability to fully experience their world.”

Both Lewin and Hauswirth are members of UF’s Powell Gene Therapy Center.

The UF researchers and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania performed the technically challenging task of cloning a working copy of the affected gene into a virus that served as a delivery vehicle to transport it to the appropriate part of the eye. They also cloned a genetic “switch” that would turn on the gene once it was in place, so it could start producing a protein needed for the damaged eye cells to function.

After laboratory tests proved successful, the researchers expanded their NIH-funded studies and were able to cure animals in which X-linked retinitis pigmentosa occurs naturally. The injected genes made their way only to the spot where they were needed, and not to any other places in the body. The study gave a good approximation of how the gene therapy might work in humans.

“The results are encouraging and the rescue of the damaged photoreceptor cells is quite convincing,” said Flannery, who is on the scientific advisory board of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, which provided some funding for the study. “Since this type of study is often the step before applying a treatment to human patients, showing that it works is critical.”

The researchers plan to repeat their studies on a larger scale over a longer term, and make a version of the virus that proves to be safe in humans. Once that is achieved, a pharmaceutical grade of the virus would have to be produced and tested before moving into clinical trials in humans. The researchers will be able to use much of the technology they have already developed and used successfully to restore vision.

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Buzz2012 Robert Hutchinson is running for a seat on the Board of County Commissioners for Alachua County.  He is vying for the District 3 seat currently held by Commissioner Paula DeLaney who recently announced she is not seeking re-election.  Hutchinson is running as a Democrat, with a primary election currently scheduled for August 14, 2012 and the general election on November 6, 2012.

 Alachua County government is at a crossroads, with significant changes occurring to the County Commission due to three seats being up for election in 2012.  An interim County Manager was recently appointed, and the County Attorney and many long-time county employees are retiring soon.

 Robert Hutchinson served one term on the Alachua County Commission, from 1998-2002.  Other jobs have included Development Director for the Florida Museum of Natural History, Director of the Gainesville Downtown Redevelopment Agency, and Director of Alachua Conservation Trust, Inc. (a position he currently holds).  Hutchinson graduated from Gainesville High School in 1971 and from Emory University (B.A. Psychology) in 1974.   He is married to Meg Niederhofer, Gainesville’s recently retired City Arborist, and is 59 years old.

 Says Hutchinson, “Twelve years ago, issues at the forefront in Alachua County included growth management, environmental protection and land conservation, and finding ways to reduce jail over-crowding and improve courthouse safety.”  During my one term in office, the Alachua County Forever program was created with voter support, the Criminal Courthouse was completely funded with voter support, and Emergency 911 communications was consolidated between City and County – an efficiency that had eluded previous local officials for decades.”

 “Today, the issues I will focus on include how to fund transportation, particularly road maintenance; how to protect our water resources which are being polluted and given away; and how to innovate in business and technology while also finding ways to help those in need of mental health or substance abuse assistance, or who find themselves homeless for economic reasons. I intend to pick up where departing commissioners left off by immersing myself in local charitable and faith-based efforts to see how they can work more seamlessly with government programs.”

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BuzzGAINESVILLE – Staying warm this winter will involve higher electric and gas bills to heat the house, but not everyone can afford to pay more. To help with heating costs, Central Florida Community Action Agency has funding for those who are within 150 percent of federal poverty levels.

Persons who believe they qualify for assistance should call 352-373-7667 on Mondays to make an appointment. Calls are accepted starting at 8 a.m.  Appointments are given on a first come, first served basis and funds are not expected to last long.

Central Florida Community Action Agency is a 501(c)3 nonprofit whose mission is to help low income families become self-sufficient, and offers a number of programs designed to reduce or eliminate barriers to economic independence and family stability.

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Buzz2012 ALACHUA COUNTY, FL - Alachua County Commissioner Paula M. DeLaney announced today that she will not be seeking a third term. The statement below is directly from Commissioner DeLaney:

Twenty years ago this week, I announced with great excitement that I was going to run for the Gainesville City Commission, where I served nine years, including four as mayor. This began a long commitment to public service in Gainesville and Alachua County. Little did I anticipate at the time what a roller coaster ride serving in local government would turn out to be.

In 2004 and again in 2008, the citizens of Alachua County placed their confidence in me and elected me to the Alachua County Commission.

Today, after very careful consideration, I am announcing that I will not be seeking a third term on the Alachua County Commission.

It has been my honor and privilege to serve the citizens of Alachua County and to have the opportunity to influence the decisions that will ultimately define our future. Serving in local government has truly been the most exciting and educational experience of my life, and I am very proud to have to have had this opportunity. I have worked very hard for twenty years to improve the quality of life for all citizens, and to serve as an advocate for the many among us who struggle so hard and have so little.

I feel very fortunate that I was raised by a family of strong women who constantly demonstrated that you really can grow up to accomplish anything you set out to do. Their work ethic, commitment to family, resilient character, and total self-sufficiency all influenced my attitudes about leadership, service and personal responsibility. I was raised to believe that if you always give back more than you receive in life, the world will be a better place.

I look forward to serving the citizens of Alachua County until the completion of my term this November. Thank you for this highest honor and wonderful opportunity. It has been a great ride.

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Buzz  TALLAHASSEE - - Florida Division of Emergency Management officials are urging residents and visitors throughout Florida to prepare for temperatures near or below the freezing mark early Tuesday and Wednesday morning. The cold front experienced in North Florida on Sunday is continuing southward through the Peninsula today, and a secondary cold front will push through the state tonight and Tuesday. A very strong arctic air mass will arrive behind these fronts and last through mid week

“We encourage all residents and visitors across the state to be prepared for freezing and sub-freezing temperatures over the next few nights that may harm vegetation, pipes, animals and people.” said Bryan W. Koon, Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “These cold temperatures may prompt the opening of shelters across the state and the SERT stands ready to assist in any human or agricultural issues.”

By dawn Tuesday, temperatures are expected to plummet into the mid 20s to low 30s across North Florida and the Nature Coast and into the mid and upper 30s across much of Central Florida. North of the I-4 corridor, the National Weather Service has issued Freeze and Hard Freeze Warnings for Monday night into Tuesday morning, where freezing temperatures could last as long as 4 to 6 hours in northern Central Florida, and as long as 12 hours in North Florida. In addition, breezy winds will create cold wind chills and a Wind Chill Advisory has been issued for the entire Florida Peninsula.

On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, temperatures will be even colder and drop into the upper teens to mid 20s across a large portion of North Florida. Lows in the upper 20s to mid 30s will extend as far south as Collier County, with mid to upper 30s forecast for Southeast Florida. This significant and widespread freeze has prompted the issuance of Hard Freeze Watches for the Panhandle, Big Bend and Nature Coast counties, along with a large portion of West Central Florida. East Central and South Florida counties from Seminole and coastal Volusia along the coast through Monroe County are under a Freeze Watch. Sub-freezing temperatures could last 2-5 hours in East Central and Southeast Florida, 6-10 hours over West Central and Southwest Florida, and 10-14 hours across Northeast Florida and the Panhandle. These Freeze and Hard Freeze Watches will be upgraded to warnings on Tuesday.

Residents and visitors should remember the "Five P's" of cold weather safety.  The “5 P’s” are: Protecting People, Protecting Plants, Protecting Pets, Protecting Exposed Pipes, and Practicing Fire Safety.

The following actions are important safety measures:

  • Stay indoors and use safe heating sources.
  • Be aware of the fire danger from space heaters and candles; keep such devices away from all flammable materials such as curtains and furniture, and install recommended smoke detectors.
  • Outdoors:  Stay dry and in wind-protected areas.
  • Indoors: Do not use charcoal or other fuel-burning devices, such as grills that produce carbon monoxide. Install at least one carbon monoxide detector per floor in your home.
  • Wear multiple layers of loose-fitting, warm clothing.
  • Drink non-alcoholic fluids.
  • Shelter or bring inside animals, especially pets.

 The elder population and homeless persons are especially vulnerable to the cold, so take measures to protect them. Exposed water pipes need to have adequate protection from the cold temperatures.

 A Freeze Warning means sub-freezing temperatures are imminent or highly likely for at least two hours.  These conditions can kill crops and other sensitive vegetation. A Hard Freeze Warning means sub-freezing temperatures are imminent or highly likely, and will kill crops and other sensitive vegetation.

The wildfire danger is also elevated due to low humidity values, strong winds and fairly dry vegetation across the state. Red Flag Warnings have been issued for North Florida areas for Monday afternoon and for the entire state for Tuesday afternoon.

For more information on cold weather safety, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and to GET A PLAN!, please visit: www.FloridaDisaster.org.  Follow us on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/FLSERT and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/FloridaSERT.

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