The Consortium conducts original research, serves students and faculty, and advances public dialogue and understanding on emerging issues at the intersection of science and society.
On August 12th and 13th, 1000 cyclists raised more than $1 million during the first-ever Chainbreaker ride, sponsored by Consortium member the Masonic Cancer Center (MCC). Routes were in increments of 25, 50, 100 and 180 miles, and wound through the south and west metro; those riding longer distances connected with the Cannon Valley Trail and eventually ended up in Excelsior. 400 volunteers supported the riders, helping with logistics, providing food and beverages, and cheering on participants. MCC Director Douglas Yee and his wife, Janet Yee, rode their tandem bike the entire 180 miles, raising more than $8000 between the two of them. Chainbreaker is modeled after a very successful event founded at Ohio State University, which has raised $130 million dollars for cancer research in the past 8 years, including $20 million dollars last year alone. Next year's Minnesota Chainbreaker is planned for summer, 2018.
Prof. Leigh Turner, a faculty member at the Center for Bioethics (a Consortium member), is in the news for his expose of pay-to-participate stem cell studies listed on ClinicalTrials.gov. An article in the Star Tribune outlines the controversy, which has heated up in the aftermath of a Regenerative Medicine paper by Turner in which he questions the legitimacy of many of these trials. According to Turner, "You have these businesses that don’t have meaningful clinical research going on. There is a risk for fraud, in that people may be charged thousands of dollars to get an intervention that has no chance of working." In particular, Turner is concerned about the appearance of a government endorsement, since ClinicalTrials.gov is run by the Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA). Representatives of some of the companies Turner named have threatened litigation, though no suits have been filed. One cosmetic surgeon quoted in the Star Tribune article refutes Turner's argument: "We are not taking public funding and using it to our benefit while pursuing 'scientific' excellence — we’re actually trying to help our patients while learning about the treatments and the disease they have. Frankly, I think this is much more ethical than a major university with billions of endowment dollars taking millions of dollars of taxpayer money so they can build new offices and laboratories to further the study of stem cells."
Consortium affiliate faculty member Francis X. Shen, JD, PhD, has been named a 2017-19 McKnight Presidential Fellow. This fellowship program is targeted at the University of Minnesota’s most promising faculty who have been newly granted tenure and promotion to associate professor; it recognizes their scholarly accomplishments and supports their ongoing research and scholarship with supplemental funding for a three-year period. In his research and teaching, Prof. Shen examines the increasingly important intersection of law and the brain sciences. His work is aimed at delineating the principles by which cognitive neuroscience should—and should not—be embraced by courts and legislatures. Shen joined the Law School faculty in 2012, and also serves as executive director of education and outreach for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience.
Improving water quality throughout Minnesota has been the focus of ongoing efforts by organizations like the Water Resources Center (WRC), a Consortium member. An article from Minnesota Public Radio lays out potential solutions, referring to a recent report by the WRC "that recommends strategies like better regulation of farm drainage systems and moving away from planting corn and soybeans to perennial crops." Fertilizers like nitrogen and phosphorus from Midwestern farm fields wash into the Mississippi River and other watersheds, causing contamination. Road salt and golf course runoff are also among the culprits. One dramatic outcome is this summer's largest-ever "dead zone" downstream in the Gulf of Mexico, an area the size of New Jersey "where water doesn't have enough oxygen for fish to survive," according to NPR. Don Scavia, a researcher at the University of Michigan, "describes it as a kind of hidden environmental disaster. 'You know, it's 8,000 square miles of no oxygen. That can't be good!'" One example of an effective solution that Scavia points to is mandatory limits on nutrient pollution in Chesapeake Bay, which have helped the bay begin to recover since being put in place in 2010.