A cheering crowd. The thud of an opposing team’s player hitting the field. These are sounds the Minnesota Vikings love to hear.
So too is the sound of children’s laughter. Through the football team’s official charity‚ the Viking Children’s Fund (VCF)‚ the organization has been helping to keep kids happy and healthy for nearly three decades by supporting innovative research in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.
Since 1978‚ VCF has donated more than $4 million to the University for pediatrics research‚ education‚ and service. Last year alone‚ VCF gave $160‚000 to those efforts.
“We very enthusiastically support the mission of the Department of Pediatrics‚” says Lester Bagley‚ Vikings vice president of public affairs. “Our players really appreciate the opportunity to support the department‚ whether by raising money‚ visiting kids in the hospital‚ or just creating awareness for a particular issue or illness.”
VCF funding is primarily used for research seed grants—money that allows promising junior investigators to test new ideas‚ in hopes that they’ll gather enough preliminary data to make strong cases for larger federal funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other granting agencies.
“Our faculty members believe it’s not enough to just recognize‚ diagnose‚ and treat the disease‚” says Mark Schleiss‚ M.D.‚ associate chair for research in the Department of Pediatrics. “They then take it back into the lab to ask‚ ‘Why did this happen in the first place? What can we do better to prevent this from happening to other children?’”
Molecular virologist Yeon Choi, Ph.D., and geneticist Lisa Schimmenti, M.D., for example‚ collaborated on a VCF-funded research project that involved screening newborns for congenital cytomegalovirus‚ a leading cause of mental retardation and deafness that affects up to 40‚000 babies in the United States each year. The two faculty members used the data they had collected in that study to leverage additional research funding from the March of Dimes.
Neonatologist Raghavendra Rau‚ M.D.‚ used seed money from the Vikings to study the relationship between nutrition and brain development in newborns. The information he gathered during that study was enough to make a successful case for an NIH grant.
“Support from the Viking Children’s Fund allows our investigators to take their questions to the next level‚ all with an eye toward improving the health of children‚” Schleiss says. “The work they do ultimately helps us take better care of our patients.”