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May 2011 Archives

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Islet transplants are curing diabetes, but they are not widely used, in part because the immunosuppressant drugs recipients must take have toxic side effects. Crucial research to solve the shortcomings of immunosuppression is under way at the Schulze Diabetes Institute, but more work is needed. That's why the University of Minnesota recently launched an immunology initiative aimed at addressing these issues.

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Most people don't think of schools of public health in terms of traditional business models. But at today's top universities, the study of population health and prevention is a complex multimillion-dollar enterprise—one that requires the strategic planning and high-stakes decision making of other industries. Researchers face pressure to think boldly about growing new and traditional research programs in an increasingly competitive grant-funding environment. Educators must keep pace with public health fields that have changed more in the past decade than perhaps at any time to date. And institutions are competing for students on a global scale in ways no one could have imagined just a few years ago.

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Perhaps it's only natural that a biathlete would pursue degrees in medicine and public health. Like biathlon—a sport combining Nordic skiing with target shooting—dual degree programs require the mastery of two disciplines through focus and endurance. It's the skillset Carolyn Treacy Bramante called on to anchor the U.S. women's relay team at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games and bring them to their best finish ever.

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Americans have seen big news in food safety lately. At the end of last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a long-awaited report on foodborne disease rates. Weeks later, on Jan. 4, the president signed into law the Food Safety and Modernization Act, marking sweeping changes to America's food safety system. The legislation gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) significant new powers. But will the FDA overhaul make for a safer food supply? There is debate, even among food safety experts.

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How doctors choose to treat their breast cancer patients may play a larger role in whether the cancer returns than experts have believed. That's according to a RAND Corp. study that looked at 994 women with pre-invasive breast cancer. Researchers found significant treatment variations from surgeon to surgeon that may account for up to 30 percent of cancer recurrences.

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A major new clinical trial seeks to determine whether HIV-infected individuals with no symptoms have less risk of developing AIDS or related illnesses if they begin taking treatments sooner rather than later. SPH professor Jim Neaton will lead the trial, which involves 4,000 HIV-infected participants at more than 250 clinical sites in 36 countries. Participants will be followed for up to five years.

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In the wake of headline-making outbreaks such as SARS, West Nile virus, and pandemic influenza, scientists have ramped up efforts to better understand how infectious agents behave and spread among us. But, remarkably, little is known as to how well many infectious diseases spread through the air.

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Too many Americans are ignoring the dangers of indoor tanning, or they are unaware of the dangers, finds SPH researcher Kelvin Choi. In a nationwide study of nearly 2,900 people, Choi found that 18 percent of women use indoor tanning facilities, yet only 13 percent believe people should avoid tanning salons to prevent skin cancer. About 6 percent of men reported tanning indoors.

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A new clinical trial aims to combat obesity by capitalizing on technology and social media's influence on young adults. In the new CHOICES trial (Choosing Healthy Options in College Environments and Settings), an SPH team will test a forcredit course and web-based social networking as a way to prevent unhealthy weight gain in 440 student participants attending three community colleges in Minnesota.

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New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter will keynote the annual Alumni and Friends Scholarship Gala, Thursday evening, Sept. 22. The event celebrates SPH alumni and raises scholarship funds for SPH students. Since joining The New Yorker, Specter has written several articles on critical health issues, including the global AIDS epidemic, avian influenza, and the world's diminishing freshwater resources. His most recent book is Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives.

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The SPH announces the launch of the Rothenberger Institute, an organization dedicated to improving the health of students through online courses developed by top public health experts. The Rothenberger Institute will build on successful existing courses— Alcohol and College Life and Sleep, Eat, and Exercise—conceived by its namesake, the late James Rothenberger, who was a national health expert and an early champion of web-based education. Rothenberger, a beloved SPH instructor, taught some 100,000 students during his 35 years at the University of Minnesota.

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"Six months ago I could never have imagined that I would be here today giving this address," said Ed Ehlinger in his remarks at the school's commencement ceremony. Ehlinger was referring to his recent appointment as Minnesota Commissioner of Health. Prior to that, he served for 16 years as director and chief health officer for Boynton Health Service at the University of Minnesota.

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Is there the political will to change the American diet? That was the question posed by Yale University professor Kelly Brownell at the school's annual Gaylord Anderson lecture. Brownell noted that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has committed $100 million a year over five years to combat childhood obesity. Yet the food industry spends more than that per week, marketing junk food to children.

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The pollution prevention and energy efficiency efforts of the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) helped state businesses save more than $1.3 million in 2010, reports the agency. MnTAP's experts worked with 120 Minnesota businesses on cost-saving solutions in the past year. The organizations that made changes based on MnTAP's recommendations realized environmental reductions of 163,000 pounds of waste, 17 million gallons of water, 3.5 million kilowatt hours, and 307,000 therms of energy.

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He's known as the King of Hearts, Mother Theresa's cardiologist, the founder of one of the word's largest hospitals, and a champion of health care for the poor, young, and most vulnerable. Devi Shetty has no intention of slowing down. This spring, the world-renowned cardiac surgeon traveled to the Twin Cities to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Minnesota. The Indian physician and U health care experts have forged close ties over the years in a common pursuit to improve health care access worldwide.

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On April 29 Mandy Stahre boarded a plane for Washington, D.C. As an advocate for the National Breast Cancer Coalition, she was traveling to meet with members of the Minnesota Congressional delegation. It was a big day by any account, but the departure date on Stahre's boarding pass carried extra significance. It marked exactly one year since she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. On that day a year ago, Stahre became one of several women in her immediate family, in four consecutive generations, to receive a breast cancer diagnosis.

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Patrick Hays has had plenty of career success. A 1971 alum of the Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) program, Hays founded Sutter Health in Sacramento, California. Today the organization is recognized as one of the country's top integrated health systems. Hays also has served as president and CEO of the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Association, the national coordinating body for the nation's then 49 independent BCBS plans. And in 2003, he received the American College of Healthcare Executives' Gold Medal Award.

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Tracy Miller doesn't like to be boxed in, whether it's on the road or on the job. While the Montana native enjoyed her time in the Twin Cities as an SPH student and staffer at the Minnesota Department of Health, she says she was happy to leave the city traffic behind for a position as a field epidemiologist at the North Dakota Department of Health. In the next dozen years, Miller worked her way up through the state agency, always looking to expand her duties along the way.

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Anne Bunde-Birouste (MPH ’86) is the subject of a film that received the Australian National Human Rights Award. The documentary, Football United: Passport to Hope, tells the story of Bunde-Birouste’s passionate work to form a team of Australian refugees from Africa and the Middle East to represent Australia at the World Cup in South Africa. Bunde-Birouste is a senior lecturer at the School of Public Health and Community Medicine of the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

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The title and focus of our cover story on the "business" of public health are sure to make some of you uncomfortable. I hope you will take the time to read and understand what it takes to run a $100 million-plus research and education enterprise, because I think you will be impressed by our ability to be entrepreneurial and thrive in the face of major economic challenges.

Elliott with dog, Brandy. (Photo: Emily Pillsbury)

Susan Doherty calls her 13-year-old son’s experience with Hepatoblastoma—a rare pediatric liver cancer—a “life-altering experience.” Following treatment at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital, the cancer is gone, Elliott has gained 20 pounds, he’s on the track team, and he’s made the honor roll at school.


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