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Giving to medicine and health at the University of Minnesota

April 2006 Archives

Selwyn Vickers, M.D.

After a year-long search, Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., has been named to head the Department of Surgery. Vickers will come to Minnesota from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where he is chief of the gastrointestinal surgery section.

Twins players Mike Redmond and Torii Hunter share baseball stories with the crowd.

With more baseball stars‚ a bigger program‚ and a higher profile than predecessor Major League Fare‚ the first-ever Diamond Awards raised a record amount of money for ataxia research at the University of Minnesota. Last year's event netted $207‚000 for the Bob Allison Ataxia Research Center‚ while this year's Diamond Awards brought in even more‚ with projected net proceeds of $212‚000.

On top of that‚ Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad was so inspired by the night's program and the Allison family's commitment to ataxia that he announced a donation of $500‚000 on behalf of the Carl and Eloise Pohlad Family Foundation.

Thumbnail image for The Ataxia Center’s team offers specialized care for patients. From left are medical director Khalaf Bushara, M.D., nurse coordinator Char Martins, R.N., B.S.N., genetic counselor Matt Bower, M.Sc., and physical therapist Alecia Nick

Khalaf Bushara, M.D., became the new director of the University of Minnesota Ataxia Clinic in January. He replaces Christopher Gomez‚ M.D.‚ Ph.D.‚ who accepted a position as chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of Chicago.

"I am excited because it gives me the opportunity to have an even greater role in providing excellent care for patients with ataxia‚" Bushara says. "We have this specialized clinic in ataxia‚ a relatively rare disease‚ and it's rewarding to be part of providing expert care that people cannot get elsewhere."

Christopher Moertel, M.D., and John Ohlfest, Ph.D., are investigating a new therapy designed to destroy brain tumor cells. (Photo courtesy of Children's Cancer Research Fund)

The Bob Allison Ataxia Research Center (BAARC) board illuminated ataxia research at the University of Minnesota in January when it voted to purchase the $140‚000 Xenogen imaging system‚ a technology that uses luminescence to monitor the health of cells and assess the effectiveness of various therapies‚ including treatments for ataxia.

Here's how it works: Researchers bioengineer the cells they want to observe to produce luceriferase‚ the same enzyme that makes fireflies light up the night‚ says John Ohlfest, Ph.D., director of the gene therapy program in the Department of Neurosurgery.

Jim Schindler and Bob Allison at the 1985 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Jim Schindler met Bob Allison on the baseball field. They played together in the minor leagues in the mid '50s‚ and their personalities clicked off the field as well. Schindler left baseball a few years later while Allison went on to play in the majors‚ but the two stayed good friends.

Their friendship matured throughout the following decades‚ until Allison died of complications from ataxia in 1995. Schindler remained a family friend to Betty Allison and sons.

Heather Nelson

Heather Nelson is a very busy young woman. The second-year medical student serves on the Academic Health Center's steering committee for the Transforming the U strategic positioning project, whose goal is to make the University of Minnesota one of the world's top three public research universities within a decade.

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Last fall the National Institutes of Health announced a bold new initiative, the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA), that promises to change the conditions under which medical research receives federal funding in this country.

Thumbnail image for Daniel Vallera, Ph.D., received funding to move new drugs he engineered into clinical trials.

The ripple effects from such findings can be small, such as adjusting a dosage of medicine, or large, such as making a groundbreaking advancement in a surgical procedure. The individuals helped by study findings could be the patient's child or grandchild—or a stranger on the other side of the world.

A successful study requires more than dedicated physicians and willing patients. It also takes a study coordinator, whose role includes working closely with the research team and the principal investigator (the physician who heads up the study) and serving as the primary contact for the patient and patient's family. The study coordinator is crucial to the success of every clinical study.

Timothy Olsen, M.D.

With the aging population, research into macular degeneration and other diseases of the retina has never been more important.With that in mind, Timothy Olsen, M.D., formed a directors group to help further such research.

A few times a year, Olsen meets with about a dozen individuals in the retinal service directors group to discuss his research and to enlist their help with Fundraising and development.

Research is an expensive endeavor, so the first thing any research project needs is funding. "Once funding for a project is in place, we can concentrate on the science," says Olsen, an associate professor and director of retina and the Minnesota Lions Macular Degeneration Center.


Thanks to two area ophthalmologists, the department's Louise Gruber Library has reached out to libraries around the world with shipments of professional books.

The Department of Ophthalmology's library received two professional book collections in recent years, the first from Twin Cities ophthalmologist Harry Friedman, M.D. His collection was comprised of "books that were central to his life and to his medical practice," says Ruth Alliband, the department's administrative aide. A collection of his bound journals and a set of Duke-Elder's System of Ophthalmology were sent to the National Eye Hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam.


A one-day cataract surgery training course for ophthalmology residents took place at the College of Veterinary Medicine in January. The Medical School residents performed phacoemulsification, an advanced cataract surgery technique that requires a very small incision in the cornea. The procedure was performed on rabbit eyes, the animal eyes that are most similar to human eyes in dimension. (Healthy human eyes are reserved for transplants in most cases.)

The training course is an annual event, one that residents must complete before performing cataract surgery on a human patient.

Andrew Harrison, M.D.

When Linda Williams walked into the clinic for her first appointment with Andrew Harrison, M.D., she had crossed, protruding eyes, and her eyelids couldn't close completely. She was miserable and in desperate need of help.

A couple of years earlier, after the birth of her second child,Williams had been diagnosed with Graves' disease, a hyperthyroid disorder associated with anxiety, high energy, sudden weight loss, and difficulty sleeping. It eventually affects the eyes in about half of the patients with the disease, but only 5 percent of those patients require treatment for their symptoms.Williams was one of them.

Thumbnail image for Minnesota’s Future Doctors program participants Fatuma Omer and Shukri Guled watch as Anna Shakil, M.D., examines patient Carol Lovejoy at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview. As part of their program experience, stu

The Mayo Clinic has begun sending a third-year ophthalmology resident to the University of Minnesota Department of Ophthalmology's Minneapolis VA Medical Center (VAMC) rotation. This rotation has been uniformly well received by Mayo residents who value the quality and diversity of training at the VAMC.

The Minneapolis VAMC rotation currently has three third-year residents: two from the University of Minnesota and one from the University of North Carolina. Please join us in welcoming the first Mayo Clinic residents to our program.

David E.R. Sutherland, M.D., Ph.D.

In February, news media across the country heralded the news that University of Minnesota researchers have successfully reversed type 1 diabetes in monkeys. What the media didn't report is that University researchers have been achieving milestone after milestone in better diabetes treatments for decades.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the world's first successful pancreas transplant. That triumph also marked the start of the University's pancreas transplant program, which is now the oldest and largest in the world. Since then, University surgeons have performed more than 1,500 pancreas transplants and that number continues to grow at a rate of 150 each year. 


The University of Minnesotas Medical Alumni Society board has selected seven physicians to receive its three awards for 2006.

Please join us in congratulating and thanking these recipients for their exceptional work in the service of the medical profession.

James Baumgaertner, M.D., ’76, took a children’s lantern project around the world in hopes of creating peace though a shared humanity. The project eventually brought together more than 230 cities in 26 countries.

Bridging a great divide James Baumgaertner, M.D., knows the power of one.

Twenty years ago he began driving a simple children's art project aimed at soothing Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. Along the way, the project became the foundation for a rich, long-lasting relationship between his hometown of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and the Russian city of Dubna.

All it took was time, money, and an undying devotion to peace.

Kurt Amplatz, M.D.

AGA Medical Corporation has made a $2 million gift to establish the Amplatz Chair in Radiology at the University of Minnesota. The endowed chair honors the achievements of Kurt Amplatz, M.D., a pioneer in the field of interventional radiology and pediatric cardiology, a retired professor of radiology at the University of Minnesota and a cofounder of AGA Medical.

Frank B. Cerra, M.D.

In March, the Minnesota Medical Association (MMA) announced a partnership of prominent leaders focused on the best ways to implement reforms to Minnesota's health care system. The initiative will be led by a 26-member steering committee comprised of key leaders, including physicians, health care executives, state legislators, major employers, and the University of Minnesota's own Frank B. Cerra, M.D., senior vice president for health sciences.

Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), researchers can now see the network of continuous interactions in the brain. Each of the dots seen here represents a sensor. Green indicates positive synchronous interactions and red indicates negative interactions.

Minnesota researchers have discovered a novel way to assess the dynamic interactions of brain networks acting in synchrony on a millisecond-by-millisecond basis.

All behavior and cognition in the brain involves networks of nerves continuously interacting. Because these interactions in the brain happen at lightning speed, it has been difficult to accurately assess them. Current methods, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), take seconds to detect such activity — way too slow.

Walter Low, Ph.D.

A group of University of Minnesota researchers has discovered a new population of cells in human umbilical cord blood that have the properties of primitive stem cells.

This is significant because cord blood is generally known to contain stem cells that can only produce cells found in blood. The new findings, however, identify a small population of cord blood cells with the characteristics of stem cells that have the potential to produce a greater variety of cell types.


As those with lupus know, the disease can be painful, exhausting, and difficult to both diagnose and treat. That's because the chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease affects multiple organs and often mimics other diseases.

But now a new discovery by a team led by a University of Minnesota researcher may hold an important key to understanding and treating lupus: a variant of a gene that is present in most people with the disease. This is the first time research has shown such a strong link between a particular gene variant and a lupus diagnosis.

After completing a portion of her research through a Cancer Biology Training Grant at the University, scientist Mariangellys Rodriguez landed a sought-after fellowship through the National Institutes of Health. (Photo: Richard Anderson)

Compulsive gamblers may soon have better odds for changing their ways, thanks to a new study led by a University of Minnesota researcher. The study, published in the February issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, shows promising results with a new pill containing the drug nalmefene.

"This is a giant leap forward," says Jon Grant, J.D., M.D., the study's lead investigator and an associate professor of psychiatry. "This is the first large study showing a medication to be effective for the cravings and behaviors associated with gambling addiction."

Gunda Georg, Ph.D., will lead the Department of Medicinal Chemistry in the College of Pharmacy.

The University of Minnesota's Academic Health Center will get a boost this fall with the recruitment of Gunda Georg, Ph.D., a world leader in drug discovery and development. Georg will join the faculty as head of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry in the College of Pharmacy. She will also hold the Robert Vince Chair and a McKnight Distinguished Professorship.

Neurologist Larry Schut, M.D., is carrying on the ataxia research his Uncle John and father, Henry (in picture), started about 50 years ago. Ataxia has killed at least 65 members of the Schut family, including John Schut.

For the past dozen years, people who are related to Abraham Lincoln have been gathering in Indiana, Iowa, and Kentucky—and University of Minnesota researchers have been there.

The researchers, led by Laura Ranum, Ph.D., come not to hear stories of the Great Emancipator or to share potato salad and coffee, but to collect DNA samples and to learn more about the Lincoln family's medical history. The 299 vials of blood they have carried back to Minnesota over the years contain vital clues to the mystery of spinocerebellar ataxia, a devastating neurological disease that affects about 150,000 Americans.

Researchers involved in the study include: (front) Karen Hsiao Ashe, Dina Nash, Colleen Forster, Lisa Kemper, and Matt Sherman; (middle) Preethi Krishnan, Linda Kotilinek, Sarah Chevaillier, Pauline Sharpe, and Jen Paulson; (back) Carol Ma, Sylvain Lesné

When German physician Alois Alzheimer first reported in 1906 on the disease that now bears his name, he described two abnormal structures in the brain called plaques and tangles. This discovery was the beginning of a complicated mystery.

What are plaques and tangles made of? What do they do to the brain? Do they actually cause memory loss and dementia? Or are they just fingerprints left at the scene of a pathological crime?

Bernhard Hering, M.D., led a study that successfully reversed diabetes in 12 monkeys using islets transplanted from pigs. Now Hering and his research team are eager to prove that islets from pigs can safely and effectively reverse diabetes in humans as we

To the million or so Americans with type 1 diabetes, the notion of one day being disease-free seems too good to be true. But, says David Sutherland, M.D., Ph.D., it could become a reality in the foreseeable future.

Sutherland directs the Diabetes Institute for Immunology and Transplantation, the University of Minnesota's focal point for research aimed at advancing the transplantation of insulin-producing islet cells to cure diabetes. Since it was founded in 1994, the institute has made great strides in refining whole-organ pancreas transplants and islet transplants to more effectively treat type 1 diabetes. This past winter, associate director Bernhard Hering, M.D. announced the results of a landmark study that moves them closer than ever to a possible cure: They successfully reversed diabetes in 12 monkeys by transplanting islet cells from pigs.

Jasjit Ahluwalia, M.D., heads the new Office of Clinical Research, which is guiding the Academic Health Center in its goals to improve and expand its basic and clinical research initiatives.

Jasjit S. Ahluwalia, M.D., is reviewing documents in the Academic Health Center's Office of Clinical Research when one of his assistants places three Dole 6-oz. fruit snacks on the conference table beside him.

When he sees the containers of cubed fruit floating in syrup, his face lights up, and he proceeds to remove the plastic seal on each tub and consume its contents.

"Those are good!" he exclaims when he's finished. "They're not too sweet, and they keep me going."


Since 1988, the School of Public Health has awarded 41 Lester Breslow Scholarships to public health students demonstrating excellence in health promotion and disease prevention. Recently, 12 past recipients gathered to show their appreciation and meet the donors who endowed the scholarship: Lester and Devra Breslow.


The School of Public Health held its annual Scholarship Reception recently. The event honors student scholarship and award recipients for their achievements and thanks donors for their generosity. The school is fortunate to receive these gifts from friends, alumni, and past and present faculty members. Donors who attend the reception have an opportunity to meet the recipients of their scholarships.


The late baseball great Kirby Puckett not only left his mark on the pages of sports history, he made an unforgettable impression on two SPH students. Susan Nwoke and Sara Hollie are recipients of a scholarship established at the University of Minnesota by the Hall of Famer. The Puckett Scholars Program provides educational opportunity to minority students, offering freshmen $4,000 a year for up to five years and an annual merit award of up to $2,000 for maintaining a high GPA.

Thumbnail image for Linda Carson, M.D.

For women with advanced ovarian cancer, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) now encourages post-surgery treatment with anticancer drugs via two methods. These combined methods, which deliver drugs into a vein and directly into the abdomen, extend overall survival by about a year.

The University of Minnesota participated in the NCI-supported clinical trials that led to this change in preferred method of treatment.

Thumbnail image for Linda Carson, M.D.

In December 2005 the University of Minnesota Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women's Health became one step closer to completing its goal of developing a comprehensive, multidisciplinary women's health program.

The department received a $200,000 grant from the University of Minnesota Physicians (UMP) Interdisciplinary Program Development Committee to fund a comprehensive planning effort. This includes hiring a consultant to formalize the concept for the new program, develop a business plan, and identify outcomes measures for assessing progress toward goals.


Faculty and fellows of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women's Health welcomed 33-year-old Pavla Novakova, M.D., to the University of Minnesota last fall.

Novakova, an obstetrician/gynecologist from 3rd Faculty of Medicine of Charles University in Prague, received funding to come to Minnesota under the Proshek-Fulbright Scholarship. The scholarship was established by the estate of Gabriela Proshek to honor her late husband, Charles E. Proshek, M.D., a distinguished physician in Minneapolis and a former Honorary Consul of Czechoslovakia.


When Linda Hammer Burns, Ph.D., helped edit the first edition of Infertility Counseling: A Comprehensive Textbook for Clinicians (Parthenon, 1999), she had no idea what a following it would have.

At professional gatherings, people would tell her how useful it was for their practice. In Japan, counselors used the book to develop a 90-hour certification course in infertility issues. Worldwide, the book became the "go-to" guide for reproductive medicine experts, physicians, genetic counselors, and mental health professionals who wanted to learn more about the psychological issues surrounding infertility and how to provide appropriate patient care. Many were affectionately calling it the "purple bible" of fertility counseling.


The Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women's Health recently received the largest private donation in its history. Jean McGough and her husband, Tom, pledged $2 million to establish the Jean McGough and Eleanor Forliti Endowed Chair in Women's Health in memory of Jean's mother. Department head Linda Carson, M.D., will be the first chairholder.

"I can't emphasize enough how valuable this gift is to our department," says Carson. "It will provide resources that can help us expand in many important areas, from start-up research funds to clinical trials to recruiting a division director for gynecological oncology."


Since its inception in 1999, the Reproductive Medicine Center (RMC) has been amassing stories and statistics that demonstrate its outstanding performance.

Chelsea Korsh knows the value of the statistics, but she and her husband, Michael, have lived the RMC's successes. Chelsea was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1997, one year before she was married. Doctors removed all of her left ovary and part of her right ovary. When she and Michael were unable to conceive "the natural way," she consulted the RMC's Theodore Nagel, M.D., on the advice of a friend. "Dr. Nagel made us so comfortable," says Chelsea. "He was matter-offact, and he had vast knowledge. He was calm and confident, and thatmade us confident. We felt like we were understanding him and being completely understood at the same time."


Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. New evidence suggests that a diet high in magnesium may reduce the occurrence of colon cancer in women, according to research led by School of Public Health epidemiology professor Aaron Folsom. "Foods high in magnesium, such as vegetables, grains, and fruit, are already considered useful for reducing colon cancer risk because of their high fiber and antioxidant content," says Folsom. However, national health surveys report that many adults do not meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for this mineral.


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

As alumni, you know that our Medical School ranks high in many measures of higher education. But to help the University of Minnesota achieve its goal of becoming one of the world's top three public research universities, our school needs to become even stronger.

Becoming a top-three university will require a commitment from everyone — and alumni support will be critical.

Nicholas Modjeski is happy to be pursuing a family medicine residency.

It's a rite of spring — and a rite of passage — on every U.S. medical campus. Match Day is the day when fourth-year medical students gather nervously, some with family in tow, to simultaneously open small white envelopes that hold important news about the next big step in their medical careers. On March 16, 216 University of Minnesota medical students gathered at McNamara Alumni Center to learn where they will complete their residency training. "You're going to be absolutely superb physicians," said Dean Deborah Powell, M.D., in her parting words before the envelopes were produced.

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