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Closer to a cure

A couple’s gift supports pioneering pig islet transplant research for type 1 diabetes

Martha Vetter’s stepson, Hans (“Hansie”), has battled type 1 diabetes since age 8. Although he was always a strong, athletic kid, Vetter says it was tough to see him struggle to manage his diabetes.

Vetter says Hansie, now 23, found diabetes especially challenging as a teenager, when he was enjoying life as a high school football player. “He wanted to be just one of the guys,” she says, not burdened by testing his blood sugar and watching his diet. “It’s made us so aware of the need to find a cure.”

That’s why Vetter and her husband, also named Hans, have made gifts totaling $50,000 to support pig islet transplantation research at the University of Minnesota’s Schulze Diabetes Institute (SDI). “We’ve been blessed with our own health,” Vetter says. “It makes sense to give back to an organization that could make a difference.”

The University pioneered a protocol for human islet-cell transplantation to restore the body’s insulin production, but due to a shortage of donor organs to provide human islets, scientists are working to reverse and cure type 1 diabetes using pig islet cells.

The pig islet cells are provided by the Spring Point Project—a Minnesota-based nonprofit raising medical-grade pigs for islet transplantation in a partnership with the University. Vetter has served on Spring Point’s board for the past five years and provided pro bono public relations services to help the organization.

Vetter, who lives in Ohio, says she learned about the University’s cure-focused work in diabetes through Spring Point and was moved to give after hearing Bernhard Hering, M.D., the SDI’s scientific director, speak about his research.

“He and the others associated with the project have been phenomenal at talking about this,” she says. “They have so much hope based in sound science. We can see a cure.”

While a cure isn’t ready for Hansie yet, Vetter says she’s hopeful that one is close and is glad Hansie isn’t letting diabetes hold him back.

“His whole attitude is that diabetes is not going to stop him,” she says proudly, adding that Hansie went on to play college football. “It has definitely inspired me.”

Tom Spizzo, director of operations for Spring Point, says he’s impressed with Vetter’s enthusiasm and commitment to finding a cure. “As is the case with many members of our board, Martha has a close personal connection to diabetes, sees the potential of the shared SPP/SDI vision, and has dedicated herself to making the vision a reality,” says Spizzo. “Her dedication and support over the years has been tremendous.”

Vetter is modest about her contribution but hopes to encourage others to give. “Many of us have kids or loved ones living with this,” she says. “At whatever level, we can all do something. Together we can make such a huge difference.”

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