University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota Foundation
Giving to medicine and health at the University of Minnesota

January 2006 Archives


There's a unique new space tucked away on the University's West Bank campus — a library that incorporates a trove of historical medical books as well as high-speed access to electronic versions of medical journals and texts.

It's the McElfresh Orthopaedic Library, a place made possible through the vision of leaders in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, the generosity of many dedicated donors, and the legacy of a beloved hand surgeon by the name of Ed McElfresh, M.D.


Not long ago, Barbara Hensley got a frightening glimpse of her future. She lost her younger sister to breast cancer in 1994 and lost her older sister to breast cancer two years later. Hensley knew she had to do something to stop the disease that devastated her family.

She had been in corporate executive management for 20 years, most recently for a Fortune 100 company in the Twin Cities, so she decided to put her business savvy to work for a different cause — one that could potentially save lives.


Public health practitioners have long championed the health needs of underserved and impoverished communities. Despite these efforts, the disparities in health among U.S. social groups continue to widen. Today, African Americans die from HIV/AIDS at a rate seven times higher than non-Hispanic white Americans. One of every two American Indian babies born today will develop diabetes. Families living in poverty have shorter life expectancies and are at higher risk for cancer, diabetes, asthma, and cardiovascular disease. American men are four times more likely to die from firearms than women. And the infant mortality rate is almost double for mothers with fewer than 12 years of education compared with those with an education of 13 or more years.


Our faculty members commit most of their lives to their professions, continually devising new ways to take their efforts that little bit farther. Some members of the Medical School and School of Public Health faculty have taken their commitment to the next level. Besides giving so much time and energy to their work, they're also giving their own hard-earned money. Here are the reasons a few of them feel compelled to give.


A few simple swipes of a Herberger's credit card can add up to a big difference in women's breast cancer research. Every time a purchase is made with a Herberger's card, Carson Pirie Scott & Co. — the parent company of Herberger's department stores — donates a portion of the sale to the University of Minnesota Cancer Center. The money is used for women's breast cancer research that could help find ways to improve the chances of detecting breast cancer early and finding better treatment options. Carson Pirie Scott & Co. has been giving to the Cancer Center through its "Charge Against Breast Cancer" campaign since 2001. In those four years, proceeds from the promotion and the sale of pink ribbon merchandise have topped $250,000.


Anita Kunin knows the importance of finding the best ways to diagnose and treat breast cancer. She's a 15-year breast cancer survivor — and she's not alone. "I'm starting to feel like everyone I know is a survivor," she says. Kunin is also the founder and driving force behind the Regis Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, an organization affiliated with Regis Corporation, the Edina-based chain of hair salons founded by her husband, Myron Kunin.


Jean McGough knows firsthand about ovarian cancer — how it has the power to slowly rob a woman of her energy, her health, and eventually, her life. In 1993 she sat by her mother's side in her Roseville home, caring for her as she wrestled the disease through the final three months of her life. It was a life-changing experience, says McGough, and it left her with questions about her own health. What were her chances of contracting ovarian cancer? she wondered. Is it something that runs in families? But, like most of us, she put those uncomfortable questions aside. Then, in the summer of 2002, the issue struck home for her and for millions of other women across the country.

John Kersey, M.D., and former patient David Stahl page through a scrapbook Stahl made during his stay at the University of Minnesota Hospital. Stahl spent three months there at age 16, becoming the first person treated for lymphoma with a bone marrow tran

To a teenager, being diagnosed with cancer is devastating. And 30 years ago, being diagnosed with cancer was even worse.

"Back then, with the word 'cancer' you thought 'death,'" says David Stahl, who was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1975 at age 16.

Things looked pretty grim for Stahl that year. After an episode of terrible stomach pains, doctors thought he had a gastric infection. But on the day he could barely breathe and was rushed to the hospital, a chest X-ray revealed that his lungs were filled with fluid. Doctors told him he might have died had he arrived just 15 minutes later.

Thumbnail image for Medical School alumni Drs. Michael Carey and Betty Oseid support University research in pediatrics and neurosurgery through both current use and estate gifts.

If you're a University of Minnesota graduate, don't ignore the questionnaire you recently received in the mail. It's a first-of-its-kind survey sent to more than 300,000 alumni of the University's colleges and schools.

The survey is designed to help measure the social and economic impact of U of M alumni on Minnesota, the nation, and the world. It will also help the University gain an understanding of what's important to alumni about their college experience and their community life today.


This year marks the 30th anniversary of the graduation of the first class to begin its medical training at the University of Minnesota Medical School-Duluth. This diverse group, which included a set of identical twins, two Native Americans, and a nun, entered a school that had been accredited only six weeks before—in fact, the curriculum was still in the works a week before they arrived. But if nothing else, one thing was certain: The Medical School-Duluth had a unique mission. When its first students walked through the doors in September 1972, they knew their school wanted them to leave as well-trained family practitioners who would soon help alleviate the shortage of rural physicians in Minnesota.

Campaign kickoff participants folded paper cranes and decorated greeting cards to give to patients at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital. (Photo: Brady Willette)

When it comes to key indicators of a hospital's safety and quality of care, the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, ranks at the top, according to an important annual survey.

Since 1998 the Leapfrog Group has been conducting surveys to measure the quality and safety of care at hospitals throughout the country. The group then reports that information to patients and families in a format similar to Consumer Reports. Hospitals voluntarily submit their survey data to Leapfrog, which is comprised of 170 companies and organizations that buy health care.

Thumbnail image for Associate dean Lillian Repesh, Ph.D. (left), talks with Mae Bixby, a first-year medical student on the Duluth campus, about what to expect on a tour of six rural communities. (Photo: Dan Schlies)

The Area Health Education Center (AHEC) network is expanding to central Minnesota. In December, officials with the University's Academic Health Center selected Fergus Falls as the host community for a new regional AHEC, the third one established in the state since 2002.

AHEC is national program that began in 1970 to improve the accessibility and quality of primary health care. Today there are regional AHECs in 45 states. In Minnesota, AHEC is a series of partnerships between the University and communities to identify and address the needs of our state's medically underserved residents and to increase the number of health care professionals practicing in greater Minnesota.


The world's largest plastic surgery association and the foremost authority on cosmetic and reconstructive surgery is looking to a University of Minnesota alumnus and faculty member to lead the organization.

Bruce Cunningham, M.D., was named president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) during the society's annual scientific meeting this past fall. He'll hold the position for one year. He also serves on the ASPS board of directors and on the board of the organization's Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation.


Smokers know that nicotine withdrawal can be extremely tough. But now there's a promising new vaccine that may help smokers quit in an entirely new way.

A new study led by University of Minnesota researcher Dorothy Hatsukami, Ph.D., indicates that the nicotine vaccine NicVax appears to be safe, well-tolerated, and potentially effective for reducing nicotine dependence.


The University of Minnesota Board of Regents has honored a leader in the Medical School's Department of Neuroscience with its most distinguished faculty award.

In December, Apostolos Georgopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., was named a Regents Professor in recognition of his lifetime of work in how the brain plans and initiates movement. Georgopoulos, a professor of neuroscience, neurology, physiology, and psychiatry, is recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on the neural mechanisms underlying movement.


Since 1780 the American Academy of Arts and Sciences has been honoring the world's leading scientists, scholars, artists, business executives, and public leaders. And this fall, a University of Minnesota Medical School scientist has joined this exclusive and prestigious group.

Kamil Ugurbil, Ph.D., director of the University's Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, was inducted into the 225th Class of Fellows in October along with 195 other new fellows and 17 new foreign honorary members. Other 2005 awardees include the late Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, TV newsman Tom Brokaw, actor Sidney Poitier, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Eric Cornell, and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

Dan S. Kaufman, M.D., Ph.D.

Stem-cell researchers at the University of Minnesota have achieved a laboratory breakthrough that could pave the way for future treatments for some types of cancers. For the first time, they've been able to coax human embryonic stem cells to create cancer-killing cells known as "natural killer" cells.

Natural killer cells are normally present in the bloodstream as part of a person's natural immune system. They play a key role in defending the body against infection as well as some cancers.

Joe Mayerle, Erin Peterson, and Travis Olives are three first-year students who were named Dean’s Scholars.

Medical School Dean Deborah Powell admits it: It's been a while since she was in medical school. Still, she's definitely in touch with the concerns of today's medical students. In fact, Powell is tackling one of their biggest concerns—skyrocketing tuition—head on.

And for good reason. Since 1984, tuition rates have doubled at medical schools across the country, leading many students to take on enormous loans. At the University of Minnesota, spiraling costs and uncertain government support have resulted in tuition rates that are even higher than average. Last year's graduating class carried an average debt load of $119,868.

Program manager Allie Briley, R.N., explains the benefits of different treatment options to a patient and his wife.

Tim Culbert had never been sick—had never been admitted to a hospital—until he was diagnosed with prostate cancer last August. The news came as a complete surprise: Just 46 years old and otherwise in good health, he had no family history of the disease.

His journey began at his annual physical exam, when his doctor discovered that his PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels were slightly elevated. After a regimen of antibiotics to rule out an inflammation in his prostate gland, a biopsy confirmed the diagnosis.

Nurse Denise Stacklie, R.N., helps Dylan with his pulmonary function test at a recent clinic appointment.

Whoever said there was a finite amount of energy in the universe has not met Dylan Mertz. This six-year-old just can't get enough of life. He plays soccer and baseball. He loves to learn just about anything, and then tell you all about it. As far as he's concerned, everyone in the world falls into one of two categories: friend or future friend.

But life was not always this way. When he was born, Dylan had distressingly poor muscle tone. After a couple of months he started to lose weight—even though he was getting plenty of food. When he was five months old his parents, Pam and Lou Mertz, brought him from their home in St. Michael to the University of Minnesota to be tested for cystic fibrosis. They had read about the inherited disease on Internet pages filled with stories of disrupted lives and early deaths.


To commemorate his appointment as Dean of the School of Public Health in November 2005, John and Jan Finnegan established the Finnegan-Mosberger Family Fellowship Fund, a permanently endowed fund to support promising doctoral students in public health science. Student scholarships are high on Dean Finnegan's priority list, and he and his spouse chose to make an immediate impact in this area. The fund is aimed at recruiting students to the School's five graduate programs. The University's 21st Century Graduate Fellowship Endowment will match the scholarship each time it is awarded.


We remember Medical School alumni who have recently passed away and honor their contributions to improving health and advancing medicine.


The William Randolph Hearst Foundation directs its philanthropy to education, health, social service, and culture, and Hearst Endowed Scholarships have significant impact across the country. An important mission of the foundation is to provide opportunities to underserved and underrepresented populations and to improve access to quality health care for underserved populations. The School of Public Health, like the foundation, is committed to eliminating disparities in health and health care. One particular SPH student, Starr Kelly Sage, embodies this commitment and is the recipient of the William Randolph Hearst Endowed Scholarship.

Janice Sinclair, now.

Janice Sinclair's favorite class in medical school was ophthalmology, so it's no surprise that she chose a career in comprehensive ophthalmology. Sinclair completed her residency at the University of Minnesota and received the Richard T. Olson Best Teaching Resident Award from the Department of Ophthalmology during that time.


Older women with diabetes who take high doses of vitamin C may be doing more harm than good, finds School of Public Health professor David Jacobs. Jacobs' findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reported on nearly 2,000 postmenopausal women with diabetes who were followed for 15 years. His research team found that those who took heavy doses of vitamin C supplements—300 milligrams a day or more—were roughly twice as likely to die of heart disease or stroke compared with women who took no vitamin C. The current recommended dietary intake for vitamin C is 75 milligrams per day for women.


The multicenter clinical trial evaluated 75 women with recurrent epithelial ovarian cancer who were randomly assigned to receive either the two-drug combination or topotecan alone. The results showed that patients who received thalidomide plus topotecan had an overall response rate of 50 percent compared to 22 percent among those who received just topotecan. Furthermore, 32 percent of patients who received the two-drug therapy achieved a complete response—meaning the cancer went away—and had a longer cancer-free period after treatment.

"While thalidomide may not cure ovarian cancer, it may broaden the treatment options available to physicians and provide more hope to women diagnosed with the cancer," says Downs, an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women's Health.


The University of Minnesota School of Public Health is a nationally recognized leader in the area of obesity research. Building on that reputation, SPH faculty have received two major, multi-year grants to study two critical areas of the epidemic: obesity's connection to cancer and preventing obesity in children.


About 170,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. Most are diagnosed with an advanced stage of the disease and nearly 90 percent die within two years. But catching lung cancer early—when surgery is a treatment option—may improve survival. A new study funded by the National Cancer Institute shows that screening for lung cancer with chest X-rays detects early lung cancer, but it also detects many insignificant nodules. The multi-center, randomized Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian cancer screening trial (PLCO) enrolled close to 155,000 participants, ages 55 to 74, from 1993 to 2001 and continues to track them. PLCO is the first major lung screening study to include women.

Charles Lick, now.

Working for Allina Hospitals & Clinics, Charles Lick wears many hats. Twenty years after his graduation from medical school, he's the medical director for Allina Medical Transportation and the Emergency/Urgent Care department at Allina's Buffalo Hospital, as well as part of Allina's clinical leadership team. He is also a clinical doctor with Emergency Physicians PA.

Roger Waage, now.

Roger Waage can't believe it's been 30 years since he graduated from medical school. He was one of the first to start his medical education at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and he just might finish his medical career there, too. Waage spent 15 years as a family practitioner before joining the Medical School faculty in Duluth; he's currently associate director and assistant professor with the Family Medicine Residency Program in Duluth. Waage says he appreciates the variety of his job and especially enjoys being involved with residents and helping them through the transition from medical student to doctor. He still gets to enjoy the beauty of Duluth in the fall, too, he adds.

Louise Town, now.

Louise Town was one of just 10 women in her medical school class of 170 students, but she says she always felt very much a part of the group. Today, 40 years since she earned her M.D., she's glad to see nearly equal proportions of male and female medical students in school. Now retired from her career as a neurologist at the Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology, Town says she enjoyed the challenge of making a difficult diagnosis and being there for her patients.

Jerry Stulberg, then and now.

As a recent retiree, Jerry Stulberg is enjoying a little more spare time, which he usually spends at his beach home, surfing, fishing, skiing, traveling, or doing charity work. Stulberg still remembers working three jobs to get through medical school, making $325 a month at most. Now that those days are over, he believes in helping those who are less fortunate through charity work. "It's much more fun giving money away than it was to make it," Stulberg says.


For the first time in 70 years, the number of cancer deaths in the United States has dropped. When that news made recent headlines, it confirmed an important fact for SPH associate professor Beth Virnig: We have a growing number of cancer survivors with a growing need for effective postcancer care. Virnig, who applies large-database studies to cancer survivorship issues, has been selected to join a group of national experts on an Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology Progress Review Group. The group, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and Lance Armstrong Foundation, will develop recommendations for advancing treatment and survival outcomes in adolescents and young adults.

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