Jonathan Pitre

Breakthrough Bone Marrow Therapy Developed by U Researchers

July 5, 2017

A team of scientists led by Jakub Tolar, director of Consortium member the Stem Cell Institute, believes they've discovered a new therapy to help patients suffering from a devastating skin disease. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "A decade after performing the world’s first bone marrow transplants to treat epidermolysis bullosa (EB) — a rare and potentially fatal skin disease — university researchers believe they have discovered a 'powerhouse' new formula that . . . helps the body grow new skin and will allow patients such as [Jonathan] Pitre, 17, to live longer, less painful lives." EB can cause friction or even a minor bump to become a significant wound; it sometimes leads to severe infections and skin cancer. Over the past several months, Pitre has been treated at the U's Masonic Children's Hospital, undergoing radiation, chemotherapy and two bone marrow transplants. Long-term research has helped doctors identify the most effective cell type for EB treatment — mesenchymal stem cells, are "uniquely good at bullying their way into the body and producing the missing collagen [that causes the disease]. 'This is the first time ever, that I know of, when you are infusing them with the goal that these cells will stay,' Tolar said. 'They will graft into the skin, set up shop there. It’s as if these mesenchymal stem cells are coming home.'"


Black mother holding a young baby on her shoulder

Racial Disparities in Infant Mortality Examined

February 16, 2017

An article in The Nation, "What’s Killing America’s Black Infants?" provides a sobering analysis of the disproportionately high death rate among African-American babies. Despite decades of interventions and public health initiatives, the racial infant mortality gap actually grew during the 1980s and 90s: during that time, "Black women who received prenatal care starting in the first trimester were still losing children at higher rates than white women who never saw a doctor during their pregnancies." This led to research into whether black women have a genetic predisposition to poor birth outcomes, which was largely disproven. However, more recently, "a growing body of evidence points to racial discrimination, rather than race itself, as the dominant factor in explaining why so many black babies are dying." The article profiles efforts in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which has one of the worst infant-mortality rates of all US cities, to reverse the trend.


Prof. Suma Jacob

DNA-based Autism Research May Support Early Interventions

September 28, 2016

A growing amount of evidence points to the importance of early behavioral interventions in the treatment of autism. However, health professionals typically won't diagnose the disorder sooner than 18 months, and often much later. To help close this gap, a major, national research study is being led in Minnesota by Prof. Suma Jacob, MD, PhD, of Consortium member the Center for Neurobehavioral Development. The study, SPARK, has the goal of collecting DNA and other data from 50,000 people with autism and their family members. An article in MinnPost quotes Prof. Jacob as saying "There have been studies that have shown that there are strong heritable components in autism. . . . What’s exciting about [SPARK] is we know that we need to gather a large number of families with autism to find as many potential connections as possible. We are in the process of collecting that large sample." She cautions, however, "The disorder is different in each individual. . . . Generalizations just don’t fit."


Narcan nasal spray

Overdose Drug Made Available to US High Schools for Free

May 2, 2016

A recent national survey found that nearly 500,000 adolescents, or about 2 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds, had abused painkillers. In response, the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) has teamed up with the manufacturer of Narcan, a nasal spray that quickly reverses the effects of drugs like heroin and oxycodone. Adapt Pharma and NASN have collaborated "to educate nurses and develop policies for schools that have the overdose antidote on hand," according to an article from Marketplace Education, and Adapt has agreed to provide the antidote for free to all U.S. high schools. The program is currently in place in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. 


C difficile bacteria

Probiotics Regulation Talk Concludes Microbiome Lecture Series

April 21, 2016

The 2015-16 Microbiome Research & Microbiota Therapeutics lecture series wrapped up today with a talk by Prof. Diane Hoffmann, JD, MS, of the Law & Health Care Program at the University of Maryland. Prof. Hoffmann discussed her work leading an NIH-funded working group charged with identifying regulatory gaps and recommending solutions to ensure the safety and efficacy of probiotic products. She also described a project currently underway to perform a similar audit of fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) regulations and those for other microbiome transplants. Prof. Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, PhD (Dept. of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota) offered a commentary from his perspective as a food safety expert and microbiologist. Videos are available of the two previous lectures in the series, one on the evolving human microbiome by Prof. Alexander Khoruts, MD (University of Minnesota) and the other on pediatric uses of FMT by Prof. Stacy Kahn, MD (University of Chicago). Video of the lecture by Prof. Hoffmann will be posted soon; please check back. 


Dr. Stacy Kahn lecturing

Pediatric Microbiome Therapeutics Lecture – Video Now Available

March 31, 2016

Prof. Stacy A. Kahn, MD, (University of Chicago School of Medicine, Comer Children's Hospital) recently delivered a lecture on Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT): Ethical Challenges and Regulatory Hurdles. Dr. Kahn, a pediatrician, discussed the real-world challenges faced by clinicians whose patients see FMT as a magic bullet for the treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD), despite a lack of evidence that it works for those conditions. She reviewed the differences between Clostridium difficile, for which FMT has been proven effective, and other digestive diseases, and provided an overview of ethical and regulatory issues presented by FMT. A video of her entire talk, which was the second in a series of three on Microbiome Research & Microbiota Therapeutics, can be found here


Dr. Stacy Kahn lecturing

Nationally-renowned Speakers Discuss Limits of FMT

March 8, 2016

At a Consortium-hosted lecture today, pediatrician Stacy Kahn (University of Chicago) spoke about the challenges of helping patients make the right decisions about Fecal Microbiome Transplantation (FMT). The therapy, while proven effective in the treatment of recurrent Clostridium difficile infections, has not yet been definitively shown to cure inflammatory bowel diseases. Dr. Kahn described parents, desperate to help a sick child, who are persuaded by information they find on the Internet to try do-it-yourself FMT, despite the risks and lack of data. She was joined by Byron Vaughn, MD, and Alexander Khoruts, MD, of the University of Minnesota's Microbiota Therapeutics Program, for a lively discussion about the reasons FMT may not be as promising for other conditions as it is for treating C. difficile. Dr. Khoruts recently co-authored, with Michael Sadowsky, PhD (University of Minnesota), a Nature Microbiology editorial cautioning about the use of FMT in clinical or domestic settings that may not allow for the proper administration of the therapy. The final lecture in the microbiome series, Microbiota-targeted Therapies from Probiotics to Transplants: New Regulatory Challenges, will be presented by Diane E. Hoffman, JD, MS – registrations are currently being accepted. 



Cesarean Babies Benefit from Exposure to Mother's Microbiome

February 9, 2016

New research led by Dr. Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello indicates a promising new therapy for babies born by c-section. Cesarean infants typically have less diverse microbiomes when compared to babies born vaginally, a factor associated with increased risk for immune and metabolic disorders. In the study, described in Nature Medicine, infants delivered by c-section were swabbed with their mothers' vaginal fluids immediately upon being born. Subsequently, the gut, oral and skin bacterial communities of these babies was enriched and more closely resembled those who were delivered vaginally. Dr. Alexander Khoruts, MD, of the University of Minnesota's Microbiota Therapeutics Program, discussed the research and its implications in an article also published in Nature Medicine. On Wednesday, Feb. 17, Dr. Khoruts will be lecturing on Dr. Gloria Dominguez-Bello's research, his own pioneering therapeutic interventions, and the threat of antibiotic-resistant rogue superbugs. 


Dr. Amos Deinard

Amos Deinard Honored for Contributions to Public Health Dentistry

November 20, 2015

Dr. Amos Deinard, Jr., a pediatrician on the faculty of the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health, was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award from the American Public Health Association – in dentistry. Dr. Deinard is the first non-oral health practitioner to ever receive this award. In the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Deinard is quoted as saying, "I want to see the goal met of every Minnesota child getting oral health care from his or her primary provider, no matter what their financial situation," noting that "doctors and dentists must work together." Deinard is one of three funders for the Consortium's annual Deinard Memorial Lecture on Law & Medicine; fittingly, this year's topic is how to reduce health disparities. To learn more and register, click here.  


Teen hurt playing football

Football Concussion Safety Guidance Inadequate, Say Two U Professors

November 11, 2015

A forthcoming editorial in the January, 2016 issue of the American Journal of Bioethics (already posted online) responds to recent football safety recommendations for children and teens from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Dr. Steven Miles of Consortium member the Center for Bioethics, and Dr. Shailendra Prasad, who specializes in family medicine and community health, co-authored the commentary, which states that the AAP guidelines don't go far enough. They cite increased understanding of the dangers of concussion, especially for young people who are more susceptible than adults to long-term damage from head trauma. Miles and Prasad conclude by calling on "the medical community [to] help students, schools and society leave a sport on which the sun is setting." 




Teen with orange jumpsuit

Decades of Scholarship Bear Fruit in NYC Juvenile Justice Reforms

July 15, 2015

New York City's Office of Juvenile Justice has announced changes to the way it will handle offenders between the ages of 16 and 25 in the aftermath of public outcry about the scandalous treatment of young inmates at Riker's IslandAn article in today's Huffington Post outlines these reforms and cites scholarship by University of Minnesota Law professor Barry Feld, who wrote a groundbreaking article laying out the case for such reforms nearly 20 years ago. Some scholars, including Consortium guest lecturer Laurence Steinberg, believe adolescent brain develop can continue long after the age of legal adulthood, into the mid-20s and beyond. Prof. Steinberg's lecture on the topic can be viewed here


E coli bacteria

Infant Antibiotic Use Linked to Adult Diseases

May 15, 2015

A new study led by researchers at the University of Minnesota has found a three-way link among antibiotic use in infants, changes in the gut bacteria, and disease later in life. The imbalances in gut microbes have been tied to infectious diseases, allergies and other autoimmune disorders, and even obesity, later in life. The study was led by Biomedical Informatics and Computational Biology program graduate student fellow Pajau Vangay, who works in the laboratory of Dan Knights, the study's senior author. Dr. Knights is also on the faculty of Consortium member center the Biotechnology Institute. The findings of the study were published in Cell Host & Microbe


Kathy Tennant with baby

Susan Wolf in Boston Globe on Whole Genome Sequencing in Newborns

December 29, 2012

A tangled debate centers on newborns’ DNA,” quotes Prof. Susan M. Wolf, Founding Chair of the Consortium, on issues raised by newborn sequencing. Genetic testing in children has historically been limited to testing that is of health importance, allowing the child to make any further testing decisions later. Genome sequencing in newborns challenges this approach and raises difficult issues concerning return of results and incidental findings. Prof. Wolf is currently writing a book on this topic funded by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award. 


In Vitro Fertilization

Cutting-Edge Policy Issues in Reprogenomics: Revamping the Law, Ethics & Policy Governing Genomic Biobanks and Assisted Reproductive Technology

This funding encompasses work on two related projects addressing cutting-edge issues posed by the latest advances in biomedical science in the linked domains of genomics and reproductive technologies. Both raise high-profile issues of immediate concern to federal and state government, scientists, and physicians. Both projects address how legal and ethical obligations to those who are most vulnerable (participants in genomic research and children produced using reproductive technologies) should fundamentally change policy and practice.