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Game Changer: Gabe Loor

April is National Donate Life Month, which urges Americans to become organ donors and potentially play a part in saving a life. Gabe Loor, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon at University of Minnesota Medical School, is a key cog in improving the transplantation process by helping to develop more effective surgical methods.

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Midwest’s first breathing lung transplant performed at University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview

A team of University of Minnesota cardiothoracic transplant experts have performed the Midwest’s first “breathing lung” transplant, an innovative surgical approach that utilizes technology capable of keeping donated lungs warm and breathing during transportation, keeping them healthier prior to transplant.

Video and full story after the jump.

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Can submarine technology transform islet transplantation?

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2013 edition of the University of Minnesota Foundation e-publication Discoveries in Diabetes and was written by Karin Miller.

Research collaborators working with the University of Minnesota and University of Arizona embarked on a unique experiment in August. A donor pancreas, chaperoned by a graduate student, was flown by commercial jet from Minneapolis to Tucson, Arizona. The goal: to see if a new organ preservation technique could extend the life of the donor pancreas. It did.

Generally, a donor pancreas must get from its origination city to its destination—sometimes across the country—in just eight hours to be suitable for transplantation. After that, the organ has spent too much time without oxygen to be used. But a new oxygen preservation technology developed by U adjunct professor Klearchos Papas, Ph.D., in collaboration with Giner Inc., would extend the life of this organ up to 24 hours.

With this technology, Papas estimates that the percentage of usable pancreas organs could jump from 42 percent to 60 or 70 percent. The better-preserved pancreases will result in higher quality islet cells as well, he says, increasing the number of people who could become insulin independent with a first pancreas transplant.

But because the donor organ supply is inadequate to meet current demands, Papas and U imaging expert Mike Garwood, Ph.D., are working towards the goal of creating an artificial, implantable pancreas, where human, pig, or stem cell islets could be implanted and protected, meeting the needs of people with type 1 diabetes. This work is championed by the Schott Foundation, which made a recent gift of $100,000 to fund it—bringing its historic U diabetes research support to more than $385,000.

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Pediatric patient dies after undergoing historic transplant at U of M

On April 23, 2013, University of Minnesota physician-scientists performed the first cord blood transplant in the United States designed specifically to cure a child with HIV/AIDS, as well as a form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) that is particularly resistant to chemotherapy alone.

This new treatment was based on the fact that the transplanted cord blood, known to be highly effective in curing leukemia, contained a variant of the cell surface protein CCR5 – known as CCR5Δ32.  Present in less than one percent of the population, CCR5Δ32 prevents most strains of the HIV virus from entering a patient’s T cells, thereby preventing the destruction of the person’s immune system.

The announcement that such a transplant had occurred this past April led to considerable interest from public as well as the HIV community. While the patient’s initial course was remarkably uneventful, in early June he developed a severe complication, called graft-versus-host disease, which occurs when the immune cells of the donor attack various tissues of the body.  While he had a partial response to its treatment initially, the patient died on Friday, July 5, 2013.

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Health Talk Recommends: Crossing the finish line

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Spring 2013 University of Minnesota Foundation newsletter, Discoveries in Diabetes. The complete article can be found here.

Pastor Constance “Connie” Olson is a type 1 diabetic, suffering from hypoglycemic unawareness. This complication meant that she didn’t experience early warning signs of dangerously low blood sugar—such as sweating, dizziness, and extreme hunger—causing her to unexpectedly have seizures and lose consciousness.

Olson applied to and was eventually accepted into the University of Minnesota’s human-to-human islet cell transplantation clinical trial—her best hope of a cure. After undergoing two islet transplants under the care of Bernhard Hering, M.D., scientific director of the University’s Schulze Diabetes Institute, she is now free from the daily burden of diabetes.

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U of M grants honorary doctorate to Chinese Minister of Health

The University of Minnesota welcomed the Chinese Minister of Health, Dr. Chen Zhu, to the Twin Cities campus earlier this week.  Minister Chen was in town to receive an honorary doctorate of science for his work as a groundbreaking leukemia researcher, and for his efforts to reform China’s health care system.

Minister Chen was the first to use synergistic cancer targeting therapy, and he developed the first successful model in the treatment of acute promyelocitic leukemia.  His work turned this once fatal form of cancer into a curable disease.

On a broader scale, Minister Chen’s work to reform health care in China has been just as ambitious.  Over the last three years, China has worked to transform healthcare by incorporating nearly universal coverage of basic health insurance, expanding coverage of essential drugs and increasing access to basic public health services.

Going forward, Minister Chen is working to accelerate health care reform in his country, including efforts to ensure universal coverage to all children who are faced with cancer or other catastrophic illnesses.

Minister Chen’s visit did generate some discussion in the news media about a controversial program in China related to organ donation.  One U of M faculty member questioned the University’s decision to grant a doctorate to Minister Chen because China’s transplantation system has relied primarily on executions for organs needed for transplant.

However, another University faculty member, John R. Lake, M.D., disagreed with that assessment.  Dr. Lake is a professor of medicine and surgery at the University of Minnesota Medical School and executive medical director of solid organ transplantation at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.

He applauded the University for recognizing Minister Chen, who he said is actually providing courageous leadership in reforming China’s transplant program.

KSTP-TV highlighted this aspect of Minister Chen’s visit in a story.

Click here to read Lake’s full letter, as well as to get a full sense of the issue of China’s transplant system and to read about the many reforms Minister Chen has helped usher in since taking office.

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