University of Minnesota Receives $40 Million for Type 1 Diabetes Research

December 11, 2008

MINNEAPOLIS and ST. PAUL, Minn., Dec. 11 /PRNewswire/ — The University of
has received a $40 million pledge for diabetes research from the
Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation. Goals for the funding, to be paid over
five years, are to capitalize on the University’s strength in diabetes
research and to accelerate the timeline to translate it into a viable cure for
people with type 1 diabetes.

The gift is the second largest in the history of the University and the
second largest by an individual or family foundation to diabetes research in
the United States. In recognition of the gift and the future of diabetes
research, the University will rename its Diabetes Institute for Immunology and
Transplantation (DIIT) the Schulze Diabetes Institute.

“We have the capacity to cure this devastating disease and help people
enjoy a happy and productive life no longer constrained by diabetes and
constant fears and worries,” said Bernhard Hering, M.D., an internationally
recognized diabetes researcher and co-director of the Schulze Diabetes
Institute. “Curing type 1 diabetes is possible. We only need to declare it
possible, engage the brightest minds, be contagiously committed and break all
barriers. This gift, for which we are very grateful, is breaking big barriers
by boosting resources, raising awareness and injecting a sense of urgency and

Type 1 diabetes is a crippling and relentless disease. It occurs in
children and young adults when the immune system mistakenly destroys all
insulin-producing islet beta cells in the pancreas. To stay alive and to
regulate their blood sugar, patients rely on multiple daily blood sugar
measurements and insulin injections. Even with rigorous disease management,
they are at risk of developing deadly complications.

“This transformative gift enables some of the world’s best minds to
aggressively pursue a cure for a disease impacting millions of people
worldwide,” said University president Robert Bruininks. “I want to personally
thank the Schulze family for their leadership, passion and generosity. By
focusing on such a widespread and devastating disease, they will not only
transform lives, but the very nature of global health care.”

Through pioneering work by researchers from the newly named Schulze
Diabetes Institute, the Stem Cell Institute, the Center for Translational
Medicine and other critical University resources, three promising conceptual
cures have been identified: human islet transplantation, pig islet
transplantation and stem cell-derived islet cells. The Schulze gift will
focus on specific efforts to implement these cures.

“The scientists, especially Drs. Hering, Firpo and Blazar and their teams
at the University have the passion, determination, experience and knowledge to
find a cure for type 1 diabetes,” said Richard M. Schulze. “We felt the time
was right to choose a direction that would advance to a cure in the next five
years. The University of Minnesota, its president and board are committed to
collaborating internally and externally to make it the center of excellence it
needs to be to accomplish this goal.”

The collaborative effort to advance these cures will be led by Hering and

Meri Firpo, Ph.D., of the Stem Cell Institute, with support from the Center
for Translational Medicine, directed by Bruce Blazar, M.D. Resources
throughout the University will be leveraged to achieve this ambitious goal.
The pledge is based on achievement milestones that have been established for
each year of funding.

Researchers have had success reversing diabetes with human islet cell
transplants, but because of the severe shortage of donor organs, and the
challenges of immunosuppression, few have benefited from this experimental
treatment. University of Minnesota researchers have sought a cure for type 1
diabetes through developing both an abundant supply of islet cells and better
and safer immunosuppressant techniques.

A team led by David Sutherland, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the Schulze
Diabetes Institute and founder of the former DIIT, was the first to perform a
human islet transplant, in 1974. Since then, Hering, Sutherland and others
have established the protocol standard for human islet transplantation. They
are continually improving outcomes by refining the process to minimize the
number of cells used and the need for immunosuppressive drugs. Nearly
90 percent of patients who have undergone the procedure are now

The research team has also successfully reversed diabetes in animal models
using pig islet cells and has established a relationship with Spring Point
Project, a nonprofit organization that raises medical-grade pigs to supply
islets for transplantation. The researchers are currently developing a cell
therapy to offset immunosuppression issues related to transplant.

Firpo is investigating the reprogramming of adult skin cells into stem
cells that can generate islet cells. She also uses stem cells to study the
development of the cells and tissues involved with the diabetes, with the hope
that better understanding may lead to discoveries that would enable islet cell
regeneration or prevent the islet cells from being destroyed in the first

“This most generous gift positions us to collaborate on the unprecedented
and real opportunities that exist today in stem cell, transplantation and
immunology research. These synergies will help us find the best cure faster.
Stem cells provide another source of islets for transplantation and offer us
tremendous potential to conquer this complicated disease,” said Firpo.

Internal and external advisory boards will provide insight, feedback and
oversight throughout the process. Researchers will also be collaborating with
partners from other academic institutions and industry partners.

Founded in 1939, the Minnesota Medical Foundation raises millions of
dollars annually for health-related research, education and service at the
University of Minnesota, with gifts supporting research, academic programs,
faculty positions, scholarships, facilities and equipment purchases. Gifts
directed to research fund studies related to children’s health, public health,
cancer, heart and lung disease, diabetes, infectious diseases and other
critical illnesses. For more information about the foundation, please call
612-625-1440 or visit http://www.mmf.umn.edu.

The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, established in 2004, is
committed to improving the lives of families and children in Minneapolis and
St. Paul, Minnesota, and surrounding communities through programs that support
medical research, social services and K-8 education.

Contact: Molly Portz, Academic Health Center, 612-625-2640

Sarah Youngerman, Minnesota Medical Foundation, 612-626-5378

SOURCE University of Minnesota

Source: newswire

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