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Children’s Health—Research

Discover what’s possible. Browse these features to find out more about the impact of University of Minnesota research, education, and care—and how you can help.

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University of Minnesota pediatric neuropsychologist Jeffrey Wozniak, Ph.D., L.P., is studying the possibility that choline, a relative of the B vitamins, may improve learning and IQ in children who have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This research could have implications far beyond FASD.

(From left to right) University physicians John Wagner, M.D., and Margaret MacMillan, M.D.; Minnesota Vikings quarterback and former FSU player, Christian Ponder; Ethan, Trey, Candi, and Jimbo Fisher; Rebecca Kill; and Karen Kaler and University President

When the Jimbo Fisher and his wife, Candi, learned earlier this year that their youngest son, 6-year-old Ethan, has a rare blood disease called Fanconi anemia, they dealt with the devastating news in private. Then they decided to use their visibility in the media to raise awareness of the disease as well as money for research at the University of Minnesota.

CTSI founding director Bruce Blazar, M.D., and Medical School Dean Aaron Friedman, M.D., expect a $51 million NIH grant to accelerate discovery that benefits the larger community. (Photo: Scott Streble)

When Dorothy Hatsukami, Ph.D., began her University of Minnesota research career, investigators had to be "extraordinarily resourceful" to find everything they needed to conduct a study, from laboratory equipment to advice on filling out regulatory forms.

"Individual researchers had to do pretty much everything on their own," says Hatsukami, a professor of psychiatry and director of the University's Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center. It took time and sleuthing to get questions answered, forms completed, and studies set up and running. "There wasn't one place that you could go to ask questions," she recalls.

Today, 30 years later, that "one place" is finally becoming a reality for University researchers.

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When Florida State University football coach Jimbo Fisher and his wife, Candi, learned earlier this year that their son Ethan has a rare, life-threatening blood disorder called Fanconi anemia, they felt compelled to take action that would help not only Ethan but other children, too.

So they established the Kidz 1st Fund to raise money for Fanconi anemia research at the University of Minnesota. The University is a leader in discovering better ways to treat the disorder and in the pursuit of a cure.

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When University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital opened the doors of its emergency department for the first time on April 30, the breakthrough pediatric medicine offered there became easier to find. The brand-new hospital, located on the University's Riverside campus, now has a welcoming and easy-to-find emergency department dedicated solely to children.

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It has been more than 40 years since University of Minnesota physicians performed the world's first successful pediatric bone marrow transplant, and researchers here have never stopped trying to find better ways to secure long and healthy lives for children who have cancer. Physician-scientist Heather Stefanski, M.D., Ph.D., echoes the dedication of her colleagues past and present when she says of her young patients, “I have to make life better for them.”

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University of Minnesota researchers have developed a new method for creating induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which can differentiate into many different types of the cells in the body and are used in medical research focused on diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases. This new process will dramatically speed up the creation of iPS cells and improve their quality, which could accelerate the treatment of many otherwise incurable diseases.

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Nine-year-old Zachary "Zac" Bartz isn't your typical second-grader -- to many, he's an inspiration. Zachas a disorder called neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), which has caused tumors to grow in his brain and for which there is no known cure. Zachas endured multiple surgeries, countless rounds of chemotherapy, and 30 radiation treatments -- all conducted at clinics associated with the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota.

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Dr. Joseph Neglia's job just got easier. As the Department of Pediatrics head works to recruit topflight experts in children's health, he can point to the extraordinary new University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital as a very visible symbol of the University's dedication to children. "Having the Amplatz Children's Hospital will go a long way to attracting the most talented faculty members and residents," says Neglia, who also is the hospital's physician-in-chief.

The Freeman family, Robyn, Margo, Don, and Myles (Photo: Ellen Johnson, Photogen, Inc.)

Ten-month-old Margo Freeman couldn't have looked any healthier. Yet, when Don and Robyn Freeman learned that their adoptive baby girl was waiting for them in Ethiopia, they sought an expert evaluation of her medical records and advice on what to expect when adopting a baby from a foreign country.

More space for kids who have cancer allows University pediatric oncologists like Brenda Weigel, M.D., to expand the number and types of therapies they can offer. (Photo: Brady Willette)

With crucial philanthropic support from individuals and organizations such as Children's Cancer Research Fund, research discoveries made at the University of Minnesota have helped increase survival rates for childhood cancer from 10 percent in 1959 to nearly 80 percent today. But Department of Pediatrics faculty and leaders realized that if the University wanted to continue as a leader in the fight against pediatric cancers, it needed better facilities.

As codirectors of the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital, Ronald Furnival, M.D., and Mark Roback, M.D., share a big job. They are building an emergency department that promises to become one of the best in the country. Their role is especially important because a significant number of patients will come to the new children's hospital via its pediatric-only emergency department.

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Coming soon to a neighborhood near you: a state-of-the-art children's hospital in a vibrant package.

It’s hard to miss the new University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital along Riverside Avenue in Minneapolis. With its special anodized steel exterior, the building changes color throughout the day depending on how the light hits it. This material has been used on only one other building nationwide.

Beyond its physical brilliance, University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital will become a beacon of hope for children and their families when it opens its doors to patients on April 30.

Chandy John, M.D., M.S., shows a medical officer in Uganda how to look for changes in the retina caused by malaria.

There are places in the world where nearly seven in 100 newborns do not live more than a month, where a vast majority of births take place without skilled birth attendants, and where one in five children never lives to see his or her fifth birthday. These stark realities fuel the drive of physician-scientists in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

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Ten-month-old Margo Freeman couldn't have looked any healthier. Yet, when Don and Robyn Freeman learned that their adoptive baby girl was waiting for them in Ethiopia, they sought an expert evaluation of her medical records and advice on what to expect when adopting a baby from a foreign country.

Research by Jakum Tolar, M.D., Ph.D., and John Wagner, M.D., moved quickly from mouse studies to showing success in paitents. (Photo: Emily Jensen)

For the first time ever, physician-scientists at the University of Minnesota have demonstrated that a lethal skin disease can be successfully treated with stem cell therapy.

Medical School researchers John E. Wagner, M.D., and Jakub Tolar, M.D., Ph.D. — in collaboration with researchers in Oregon, the United Kingdom, and Japan — used stem cells from bone marrow to repair the skin of patients with a fatal skin disease called recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB).

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Philanthropy makes a real difference in the lives of children with debilitating diseases and disorders. Because of Alfred and Ingrid Lenz Harrison’s $1 million challenge gift to the University of Minnesota’s Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Initiative in 2007, for example, researchers here are digging deeper into the causes and possible therapies for autism and related conditions.

University researcher Jakub Tolar, M.D., Ph.D., with Keric Boyd, who underwent an experimental bone marrow transplant to treat his EB. Now Keric can ride his bike -- something he was never allowed to do before. (Photo: Emily Jensen)

Physician-scientists at the University of Minnesota have for the first time demonstrated that a lethal skin disease can be successfully treated with stem cell therapy. Medical School researchers John E. Wagner, M.D., and Jakub Tolar, M.D., Ph.D.—in collaboration with researchers in Oregon, the United Kingdom, and Japan—used stem cells from bone marrow to repair the skin of patients with a fatal disease called recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (EB).

John E. Wagner, M.D., performed Molly Nash’s controversial transplant. (Photo: Scott Streble)

In most ways, 16-year-old Molly Nash is a typical teenager. She argues with her parents. She bickers with her younger brother and sister (but admits to loving them, too). And she is a budding actress, recently portraying Chip the teacup in Beauty and the Beast. The science that came together 10 years ago to give Molly these opportunities was revolutionary, controversial, and for her family, intensely personal.

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Since Congress launched the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in 1997, the number of uninsured children in this country has declined by more than 20 percent, according to a new study from the State Health Access Data Assistance Center (SHADAC).

Thumbnail image for University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital is one of three buildings in the country to use these distinctive metal panels that reflect blue, green, purple, maroon, or gold, depending on how the sunlight hits them.

University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital has one of the nation’s top 15 pediatric research programs. Partnering with the University’s Medical School and Department of Pediatrics, the hospital has been a part of numerous medical breakthroughs.

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Teens and young adults are eating less than one serving of whole grains a day, far below the recommended minimum of three servings, according to SPH research. While the importance of whole grains is well known—they help fight type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain—much less is known about the factors that encourage their consumption.

Thomas George, M.D.

When Misty and Matt Motzko’s son, Logan, was born unexpectedly at 24 weeks, weighing only a pound and a half, the whole family needed expert care. Nothing could have prepared the Motzkos for their baby’s harrowing entry into the world—but under the circumstances, Misty says, they couldn't have landed in a better place. That place was University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital’s Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Kim Johnson, Ph.D., Julie Ross, Ph.D., and David Largaespada, Ph.D. (Photo: Emily Jensen)

Department of Pediatrics faculty members got a lift in medical research funding over the past year, thanks in part to more than $4.3 million they've received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).They've been awarded 16 grants for projects in hematology, oncology, and blood and marrow transplantation; epidemiology and clinical research; infectious disease; and neonatology.

Michael Verneris, M.D.

Acute leukemia patients who receive a transplant of two units of umbilical cord blood (UCB) instead of one have a significantly reduced risk of the disease returning, according to research led by two Department of Pediatrics faculty members. Michael Verneris, M.D., and John Wagner, M.D., found that 19 percent of patients transplanted with two units of UCB had recurrent cancer compared with 34 percent of patients receiving one unit.

Thumbnail image for “If you’re going to try to change the war we treat heart disease, it’s critical to be in an environment where you can try new, crazy ideas.” - Doris Taylor, Ph.D.

Surgery to treat congenital heart disease in children has dramatically improved over the past 20 years. Still, some challenges remain. While most congenital heart disease patients live beyond the surgery,many experience shortterm challenges such as inflammation and longlasting effects such as neurological problems.


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