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

Friday, December 12, 2008 General News
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MINNEAPOLIS and ST. PAUL, Minn., Dec. 11 The University ofMinnesota has received a $40 million pledge for diabetes research from theRichard M. Schulze Family Foundation. Goals for the funding, to be paid overfive years, are to capitalize on the University's strength in diabetesresearch and to accelerate the timeline to translate it into a viable cure forpeople with type 1 diabetes.

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

"We have the capacity to cure this devastating disease and help peopleenjoy a happy and productive life no longer constrained by diabetes andconstant fears and worries," said Bernhard Hering, M.D., an internationallyrecognized diabetes researcher and co-director of the Schulze DiabetesInstitute. "Curing type 1 diabetes is possible. We only need to declare itpossible, engage the brightest minds, be contagiously committed and break allbarriers. This gift, for which we are very grateful, is breaking big barriersby boosting resources, raising awareness and injecting a sense of urgency andresponsibility."

Type 1 diabetes is a crippling and relentless disease. It occurs inchildren and young adults when the immune system mistakenly destroys allinsulin-producing islet beta cells in the pancreas. To stay alive and toregulate their blood sugar, patients rely on multiple daily blood sugarmeasurements 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 toaggressively pursue a cure for a disease impacting millions of peopleworldwide," said University president Robert Bruininks. "I want to personallythank the Schulze family for their leadership, passion and generosity. Byfocusing on such a widespread and devastating disease, they will not onlytransform lives, but the very nature of global health care."

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

"The scientists, especially Drs. Hering, Firpo and Blazar and their teamsat the University have the passion, determination, experience and knowledge tofind a cure for type 1 diabetes," said Richard M. Schulze. "We felt the timewas right to choose a direction that would advance to a cure in the next fiveyears. The University of Minnesota, its president and board are committed tocollaborating internally and externally to make it the center of excellence itneeds to be to accomplish this goal."

The collaborative effort to advance these cures will be led by Hering andMeri Firpo, Ph.D., of the Stem Cell Institute, with support from the Centerfor Translational Medicine, directed by Bruce Blazar, M.D. Resourcesthroughout the University will be leveraged to achieve this ambitious goal.The pledge is based on achievement milestones that have been established foreach year of funding.

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

A team led by David Sutherland, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the SchulzeDiabetes Institute and founder of the former DIIT, was the first to perform ahuman islet transplant, in 1974. Since then, Hering, Sutherland and othershave established the protocol standard for human islet transplantation. Theyare continually improving outcomes by refining the process to minimize thenumber of cells used and the need for immunosuppressive drugs. Nearly90 percent of patients who have undergone the procedure are nowinsulin-independent.

The research team has also successfully reversed diabetes in animal modelsusing pig islet cells and has established a relationship with Spring PointProject, a nonprofit organization that raises medical-grade pigs to supplyislets for transplantation. The researchers are currently developing a celltherapy to offset immunosuppression issues related to transplant.

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

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

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

Founded in 1939, the Minnesota Medical Foundation raises millions ofdollars annually for health-related research, education and service at theUniversity of Minnesota, with gifts supporting research, academic programs,faculty positions, scholarships, facilities and equipment purchases. Giftsdirected to research fund studies related to children's health, public health,cancer, heart and lung disease, diabetes, infectious diseases and othercritical illnesses. For more information about the foundation, please call612-625-1440 or visit

The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, established in 2004, iscommitted to improving the lives of families and children in Minneapolis andSt. Paul, Minnesota, and surrounding communities through programs that supportmedical 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

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