Research at the University of Minnesota’s Paul and Sheila Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Center has flourished with 10 years of support from the Greg Marzolf Jr. Foundation—the legacy of a boy who yearned for a cure for MD.
“Gregory always felt he didn’t want other kids to have to go through what he had gone through,” says his father, Gregory Marzolf Sr.
Gregory Jr. was just 2 years old when he was diagnosed with MD. In the years that followed, Gregory, with his mischievous wit, good-natured persistence, and prodigious problem-solving ability, advocated for himself and others with the disease, won many friends, and helped raise thousands of dollars for MD-related causes.
Gregory’s mother, Patricia Marzolf, says it was his personality and strength of character that galvanized his community. Friends and strangers alike saw beyond Gregory’s disability. “He was not ‘the kid in the wheelchair,’” she says. His high school principal told Patricia presciently, “He can do more for us than we can do for him.”
Not long after Gregory died—in 2000 at age 20—the Marzolf family was approached by friends determined to keep his spirit and mission alive. They asked if they could start a foundation in his name.
“A lot of times when families lose someone, they tend to fall off the radar,” says Gregory Sr. “Our community pushed us to stay involved. We wanted to stay involved.”
Now, more than a decade later, the Greg Marzolf Jr. Foundation and its committed group of volunteers are still going strong. At the U, the group created the Greg Marzolf Jr. MD Trainee Program, which distributes competitive research stipends to undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral trainees focused on muscle diseases. University leaders told the Marzolfs that this support would help to cultivate and nurture young scientists’ bold new ideas about how to cure MD—and that the funding also could be leveraged to attract larger grants from the National Institutes of Health and other research-funding bodies.
“The trainee program was entirely different than anything we’d ever heard of,” says Patricia Marzolf. “It lets us focus [our donations] locally, with a mission that says research for a cure.”
Since 2002, the Greg Marzolf Jr. Foundation has raised more than $1 million for research. Of that, the organization has designated more than $250,000 to the Greg Marzolf Jr. MD Trainee Program at the University, which in turn has attracted $12.6 million in additional funding for the MD Center.
The Marzolfs say they are particularly excited about the work being done by Joseph Metzger, Ph.D., chair of the University’s Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology and holder of the Maurice B. Visscher Endowed Chair in Physiology. The Metzger lab is testing a “molecular Band-Aid” it designed to help repair weakened heart muscle that occurs in conjunction with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and other conditions.
“It’s nice to see all of this happen here in our own backyard,” Patricia Marzolf says.