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Giving to medicine and health at the University of Minnesota

January 2011 Archives

(L-R) Alexandra Carlson; William Kennedy, M.D.; Meri Firpo, Ph.D.; Caroline Schlehuber (front); Michelle Schlehuber; Brian Fife, Ph.D.

Michelle Schlehuber and daughter Caroline voluntarily donated skin cells to a Schulze Diabetes Institute research project on a recent visit to the University. As part of the project, Meri Firpo, Ph.D., is taking donated skin cells from diabetics and non-diabetics, reprogramming them back into unspecified stem cells, which she then turns into insulin-producing islet cells. Firpo transplants the reprogrammed skin cells into diabetic mice to see if the cells can function as insulin-producing islets. She hopes to determine whether the treatment is a viable option for humans, as a way to use patient’s own cells or human donor cells to cure diabetes.

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People with type 2 diabetes, whose bodies are unable to regulate glucose levels, are significantly more likely to get heart disease than people who don't have diabetes. So Jennifer Hall, Ph.D., director of the program in translational cardiovascular genomics at the University of Minnesota, hopes that her research focused on identifying what predisposes a person to type 2 diabetes also may shed light on what factors lead to heart disease.

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Warm greetings from our winter wonderland! 2011 ushers in new leadership at the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center (AHC), the umbrella organization that houses the School of Public Health and the U's five other health sciences schools. Aaron Friedman has taken the reins from Frank Cerra, who provided outstanding leadership in the AHC for the past 15 years. Dr. Friedman is a pediatrician who has a strong appreciation for the role of public health. In addition, I look forward to welcoming University of Minnesota President-designate Eric Kaler to campus. Dr. Kaler is a U alum (PhD '82).

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Christine Bakke (MHA ’01) received the Up and Comers Award from Modern Healthcare Magazine. She is an administrator for the Gorecki Care Center at St. Benedict’s Senior Community, CentraCare Health System in St. Cloud, Minn. Nancy Goldstein (MPH ’76) has been named chair-elect of the Cancer Patient Education Network, an organization affiliated with the National Cancer Institute. Goldstein is a patient education program manager at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, and the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital.

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Brian Osberg has been awarded the prestigious University of Minnesota Alumni Service Award in recognition of his dedication to the institution. Osberg's relationship to the University is one marked by his ability not only to strategically envision next steps but also a commitment to do the work to get there. This combination became evident soon after Osberg graduated from the School of Public Health with an MPH in 1986. At the time, he was a vice president at Group Health (now HealthPartners), where he was working to usher in new health care models.

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More than 200 community members came together with School of Public Health leaders to recognize the partnerships that advance the education, research, and outreach efforts aimed at improving population health locally. "We all know that public health has always been a discipline that has valued the concept of collaboration. That is what sets us apart from other areas of scientific study," said SPH dean John Finnegan in his welcoming remarks at the seventh annual Community Partners event. "It is the commitment we all share for making an impact on improving health and preventing disease at the community level."

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School of Public Health professor Mary Story has been elected to the Institute of Medicine (IOM). IOM membership is a status considered to be one of the highest honors in the field of health sciences. "My academic career has been devoted to improving the nutritional health of children and adolescents, and it is an honor to be elected to the Institute of Medicine," says Story.

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The SPH received its highest level of gift support on record in fiscal year 2010, which ended on June 30. More than 650 donors made gifts and pledges totaling $2,724,939, with most of those gifts going to endowed scholarships. With support from University scholarship matching programs, gifts to scholarship endowments will have their awards doubled on an annual basis.

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The University of Minnesota School of Public Health is the recipient of two multi-million dollar preparedness grants that will position the school to conduct and translate preparedness research into training opportunities for the workforce. The work will be carried out under the University of Minnesota Simulations, Exercises, and Effective Education (U-SEEE) project.

Thumbnail image for 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

Health care needs to change, and it will, one way or another. That's the uncomplicated fact agreed upon by a panel of experts at the most recent School of Public Health Roundtable, "Leadership Essentials in the Era of Health Reform." The roundtable kicked off with a keynote address delivered by George Halvorson, chairman and chief executive officer of Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest nonprofit health plan and hospital system. Halvorson spoke of the need to change processes in health care delivery.

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When patients in U.S. hospitals and clinics are in need of blood, they can get it. We have a nationwide system to ensure the collection, management, and distribution of blood. We have blood drives to populate our blood banks. And we have trained hematologists. But half a world away, this is not the reality. In many developing countries, there is no system. If a person needs blood, he or she must find someone who is willing to donate. And even then, it's not a sure bet that the blood is the right type, or even safe.

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Researchers from the University of Minnesota are part of an international team investigating whether Type 2 diabetes can be effectively treated by bariatric surgery. Obesity has long been known to be a major risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. Randomized studies have shown that gastric banding—bariatric surgery involving implanting an adjustable band in the stomach—improves the health of diabetics by encouraging weight loss.

Psychologist Sue Petzel, Ph.D., helps women who have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer decide whether to undergo genetic testing.

Obesity doesn't just raise older women's risk of developing colon cancer, it may also increase their risk of dying from it. That's according to research led by SPH epidemiologist Anna Prizment. In an analysis of 1,100 postmenopausal women diagnosed with colon cancer between 1986 and 2005, her team found that women carrying excess weight in the waist and hips may be at increased risk of death.

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People are less likely to support laws requiring the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for young girls when they learn that there is controversy over such laws, finds SPH research. While the vaccine that protects against the potentially cancer-causing virus is widely supported in the medical and public health communities, state laws requiring girls to be vaccinated for middle-school attendance have caused controversy among parents, politicians, and even medical and public health experts disagreeing about whether such laws are appropriate. News coverage about the vaccine requirements likely amplifies the controversy.

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A large-scale study suggests that annual CT scans of current and former heavy smokers could reduce deaths from lung cancer by 20 percent. Screening with the high-tech images has proved so successful that researchers stopped the trial six months early. The University of Minnesota played a major role in the National Lung Screening Trial, recruiting, screening, and tracking 6,600 participants.

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PAD, or Peripheral Artery Disease, is a common and often debilitating condition in which blood flow to the legs is obstructed by plaque that blocks heart or brain arteries. It affects at least 8 million Americans and is considered a major, but less known, risk factor for heart attacks and stroke. As baby boomers age, rates of PAD are expected to spike.New research, led by SPH epidemiologist and Medical School cardiologist Alan Hirsch, shows that each year the U.S. spends roughly $21 billion on PAD-related hospitalizations.

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When Lorna Schmidt signed up to receive text message updates from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), she had no idea she would one day win a contest sponsored by the federal agency. But that's just what happened when the Community Health Education student participated in a text message-based quiz on new tobacco regulations. As one of four winners across the country, Schmidt was profiled in a FDA-produced video on her own efforts in the area of tobacco prevention.

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Sarah Stephenson realized she had an interest in children's health at a dance marathon. At the time, the University of Iowa student was helping to raise funds for young cancer patients and their families. "At the end of the marathon, all the kids who you raised money for come to the dance," explains Stephenson. "When I saw the kids and their families arriving, I realized I had an interest in helping them beyond just this event."

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David Parker remembers the moment he first encountered child labor. It was the early 1990s and the occupational health physician was in Nepal investigating what was at the time a greatly unknown issue. "I walked into a factory, and there were about forty kids sitting on a cold, damp floor hand knotting carpets in a cramped room," he recalls. "I thought, 'My God, this is what people think of when they talk about child labor.'"

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A victim of child abuse who ends up in the emergency department would never be treated and sent back to a violent environment without some sort of intervention. But all too often that's exactly what happens when young people arrive at the hospital stabbed or shot as a result of street crime. As an emergency physician, Dave Dvorak knows this troubling reality well. As an SPH graduate, he understands the power of viewing violence as a public health issue.

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From the start, children encounter threats to health. They are vulnerable to risks in an environment determined by parents, community, and society. Some health issues have clear causes. A fetus, for example, may be affected by particulates or chemicals in the air an expectant mother breathes. And while measures of air pollution and lead levels have decreased in children since 1997, they remain higher than recommended— and noticeably higher in black children than white children.

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Though she had never before considered herself an artist, life circumstances helped Marian S. Adcock uncover a previously untapped talent. Following the death of her husband of 27 years, she was inspired by the beauty of nature to take up botanical art, an ancient tradition that involves creating scientifically accurate depictions of plant life. Plus, making art provided her with a good outlet for her emotions.


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