Donations to lung research help propel U’s program to the top
When Dave Amato was diagnosed with usual interstitial pneumonitis in 2002, the life-threatening lung disease was already at an advanced stage. Soon his wife, Anne, was on the phone with lung transplant centers all over the country, including the transplant center at the University of Minnesota.
Less than two years later—thanks to two unrelated lung donors and the medical team’s expertise—Amato had a successful living-donor lung transplant at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview.
“Life is great,” Amato says. “It’s a wonderful gift. And because of the people at the University of Minnesota, we’re enjoying that gift every day.”
Out of gratitude for the care Dave received, the Amatos decided to give back. In the summer of 2005 the suburban Chicago couple threw a huge benefit that drew more than 600 people. They gave $36,000 in net proceeds to Timothy Whelan, M.D., one of Amato’s doctors and assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, for lung disease research. And they’re planning a similar benefit event for the near future.
“We believe in the research,” Amato says. “We believe that what they’re doing at the University of Minnesota is the best. And we know where the money we’re generating is going—it’s going to save other lives.”
The Amato family is not alone in supporting University lung experts who have made a difference in their lives.
John and Judy Murphy pledged $1 million in 2002 to establish an endowed professorship in gratitude for care provided by Marshall Hertz, M.D., professor in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care in the Department of Medicine, to Judy during her fight with pulmonary fibrosis. When Judy passed away in October 2005, 127 gifts totaling $18,000 were made in her memory to support lung research.
Through the leadership of Thomond and Alvina O’Brien, the Alice M. O’Brien Foundation pledged $250,000 just over a year ago to establish the O’Brien Biobank for Lung Research. Thomond O’Brien has pulmonary fibrosis and is also a patient of Whelan’s.
Another local family has given more than $350,000 in a loved one’s memory to support the research of David Ingbar, M.D., professor and director of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care.
These gifts are helping the University’s leaders in lung health build a bigger, better, nationally renowned lung center in Minnesota.
“We see the need for an interdisciplinary lung center,” says Ingbar, executive director of the new Center for Lung Science and Health (CLSH). “Nationally there are cancer centers galore, lots of neuroscience centers, but virtually no lung centers. There’s a huge disease burden out there that needs attention.”
The University launched the new center in late 2006 as an expansion of its Center for Advanced Lung Disease. “The new center and its new name encompass a broader mission,” says Hertz, the center’s director, that includes chronic lung diseases, allergy and asthma, critical care medicine, sleep medicine, and environmental and occupational lung issues.
“They’ve got everything from soup to nuts,” says John Murphy, who now chairs the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s board of trustees and is actively Fundraising for the CLSH, among other causes. “Anything to do with breathing, the lung center’s got it.”
The center brings together lung researchers from many disciplines to collaborate on their common goals: developing new treatments and getting them to patients as quickly as possible.
With that broadened mission comes a greater need for philanthropy, according to Hertz and Ingbar.
“Research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is getting harder to come by. That’s why start-up research funding from donors is so crucial,” Ingbar says. When a person or organization makes a relatively small donation to start-up research, the results of that work can leverage millions of research dollars from the NIH.
Hertz and Ingbar—or the “dynamic duo,” as Murphy calls them—hope the O’Brien Biobank for Lung Research will be an example of this process.
In the Biobank, researchers are storing tissue samples from diseased lungs. When they later apply for NIH funding to analyze genetic and molecular differences between tissue samples, the tissue they’ve already banked will help provide answers—giving them an advantage over the “competition.”
And as competition between universities grows, recruiting and retaining top-tier faculty members becomes more difficult, Ingbar says. “Donations for endowed chairs or professorships that help the University to attract renowned faculty members are vital. Otherwise, it’s like competing against the New York Yankees in the free-agent market.”
Donations for a lung science laboratory, clinical research activities, and community outreach also will be needed to propel the University’s lung center to the top, Hertz says.
Murphy, for one, is thrilled about Ingbar’s and Hertz’s enthusiasm and drive. And he knows personally many of the people a leading lung center will benefit.
“When Judy was sick, we went to a support group every Monday, sometimes dragging an oxygen tank,” he says. “We got to know all of these people from all walks of life, who all had lung disease. I want to help them. We can put up a beacon and show them how to get here by becoming a center of excellence.”