Consortium Faculty

Dr. Damien Fair
Damien Fair, PA-C, PhD
Co-Director, Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain (MIDB)
Professor, Department of Pediatrics
Professor, Institute of Child Development
Faculty Member, Division of Clinical Behavioral Neuroscience


Sharon F. Terry

Terry, Yee Illuminate Opportunities, Challenges of Citizen-Driven Research

January 31, 2019

On Jan. 29, Sharon F. Terry​, MA​ (Genetic Alliance)​ and Douglas Yee, MD (Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota)​ engaged in a lively conversation about the promises and pitfalls of research that's driven by citizen scientists and patient advocates. The wide-ranging discussion touched on Terry's own path to conducting research because her children's rare disease diagnosis. She's gone on to establish infrastructure and provide guidance for others who want more ownership of the research process and operate outside of traditional scientific channels. Dr. Yee added his perspective as a cancer researcher and clinician. The event was moderated by Susan M. Wolf, JD, Consortium Chair. Video of the webcast is available here.


Santa Claus with 2 kids on his lap

'Sensory Santa' for Kids with Autism Will Help Find Participants for SPARK Study

December 13, 2018

The Center for Neurobehavioral Development, a Consortium member, is using an unusual partner  Santa Claus  to raise awareness of SPARK, the largest autism genetics study in the nation. According to a story from Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), the Center is hosting a Sensory Friendly Santa event this coming Saturday, Dec. 15, from noon-4. Dr. Suma Jacob, who helped organize the event, notes, "It varies for different individuals but one way to describe [sensory sensitivity] is that some people can hear almost every noise around them and have a difficult time blocking it out. . . . Our Santa has worked with kids with autism and other developmental disabilities. Santa will be mindful to wait for the child to approach instead of taking the lead." Dr. Jacobs leads the University of Minnesota SPARK team, and explains that one goal of the event is to let families know about the study and how they can participate. According to MPR, "As part of the study, children will be able to give saliva samples instead of having their blood drawn, which can often be especially traumatic for children with sensory sensitivities."



Georgieff Co-authors AAP Policy Statement on Infant Nutrition

February 12, 2018

Two University of Minnesota professors have co-authored a major nutrition policy paper on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Sarah Jane Schwarzenberg of Masonic Children's Hospital and Michael K. Georgieff of the Center for Neurobehavioral Development, a Consortium member, wrote the report on behalf of the AAP's Committee on Nutrition. The article recommends foods that ensure healthy brain development in the first three years of life. It also notes that, while breast milk is preferable for a baby's first six months, after that breastfeeding moms and their partners should supplement infant diets with a variety of foods rich in iron and zinc, including lean meats, fruits and vegetables. An article in MedPage Today outlines the paper's policy recommendations related to major programs such as Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), all of which are important to ensuring the availability of healthy food options. The authors encourage pediatricians to provide guidance on "informed food choices" and help families connect with nutritional programs such as food pantries and soup kitchens. Prof. Georgieff is a member of the Consortium's Executive Committee


Martin J. Blaser

Blaser Shares Groundbreaking Research on Antibiotics and Microbiome Health

February 7, 2018

Today, Martin J. Blaser of New York University's School of Medicine spoke to a standing-room-only crowd on "The Dark Side of Antibiotics." Prof. Blaser provided an overview of what we've learned about changes to the human microbiome over the past 70+ years. His talk focused on obesity, diabetes, asthma and other harms that appear to be linked to the aggressive use of antibiotics. Prof. Blaser also outlined research indicating that microbiome characteristics can be passed from mother to child, leading to ever more limited microbiotic diversity over generations. He looked at global differences in the human microbiome related to the number of antibiotics prescribed, and discussed the more judicious use of these drugs in countries like Sweden, where antibiotics are prescribed less frequently but health measures are still strong. Finally, he described some possible approaches to microbiome restoration. James R. Johnson, an infectious disease specialist, provided a commentary in which he discussed the various ways antibiotics have been viewed by medical professionals since coming into wide usage in the early 1940s. Prof. Johnson offered a clinical perspective on the challenges of limiting their use. A video of the entire talk can be viewed here.  


Human skin

Whole-body Skin Graft Gives Hope to a Boy with a Rare Disease

November 10, 2017

An article in Science Magazine describes the case of a 7-year-old boy who suffers from "a severe form of epidermolysis bullosa (EB), an often-fatal group of conditions that cause skin to blister and tear off at the slightest touch." He has made a dramatic recovery after being treated with genetically modified stem cells that were used to grow new skin, which was then grafted onto his body. Jakub Tolar, MD, is also developing therapies for EB; he is Dean of the Medical School and Director of the Stem Cell Institute, a Consortium member. In the Science article, he notes, that "the grafts . . . can’t repair damage to internal surfaces such as the esophagus, which occurs in some EB cases. Fortunately, that wasn’t an issue for the boy in this study. The treatment is 'a good step in the right direction,' Tolar says, 'but it’s not curative.'” In a separate article in STAT, John Wagner, MD, Director of the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital’s blood and marrow transplant program, says the findings have “'extraordinary' potential because, until now, the only stem cell transplants proven to work in humans was of hematopoietic stem cells — those in blood and bone marrow."



In a First, Study Demonstrates Effectiveness of a Probiotic Strain in Preventing Disease

August 18, 2017

Probiotics like Lactobacillus have become common supplements, consumed either in pill form or in food. Despite their popularity, however, scientific evidence of probiotic benefits has been scarce. Now, according to an article in The Atlantic, a team from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has released the results of a large clinical trial demonstrating that babies given a combination of the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum and sugar "had a significantly lower risk of developing sepsis — a life-threatening condition where infections trigger body-wide inflammation, restricted blood flow, and organ failure." The team, led by Prof. Pinaki Panigrahi, took the novel approach of identifying probiotic strains that actually thrive in the human gut; previously, studies have focused on those that are easy to grow and manufacture. The study may be the first to credibly demonstrate a benefit that had, until now, been theoretically possible but unproven. The lack of hard evidence has left most scientists skeptical of the probiotics craze — for example, Prof. Alexander Khoruts of the University of Minnesota's Microbiota Therapeutics Program has stated his belief that, until further tested, they're a waste of money; see his Consortium-sponsored talk on the evolving human microbiome here. Since this large-scale study shows compelling results, it could mark the beginning of a new era in probiotic therapies.


R. Alta Charo

Charo Explains Breakthrough Genetic Treatment for Leukemia

July 27, 2017

For the first time, an FDA panel has recommended that the agency approve a genetic treatment for leukemia. The therapy has been shown to treat a type of leukemia that sometimes doesn't respond to standard therapies like chemotherapy. It uses genetic engineering – removing cells, editing them and then reintroducing them into the patient's body – to transform the living cells into a weapon against cancer. The clinical trial of 55 people had an 85% effectiveness rate, resulting in remission or possibly a long-term cure. In an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio, Consortium collaborator Prof. Alta Charo (University of Wisconsin Law School) notes the treatment is "not a magic bullet yet." She cites some very serious side effects, such as extreme inflammation that can cause extraordinarily high fevers. In addition, it is expensive, potentially costing as much as $500,000. If approved, the therapy is recommended for ages 3-25; however, it could eventually be rolled out to older patients. Charo describes this as an example of the "medicine of the 21st century [which will use] gene editing in order to personalize treatment . . . changing cells so they can become their own kind of biological drug." Charo is a member of the National Working Group for the LawSeqSM project, for which Consortium Chair Prof. Susan M. Wolf is one of the Principal Investigators. Listen to the entire interview here


Jakub Tolar

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.'"



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."


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.  


Scan of brain with injury

Football Concussion Safety Guidance Inadequate, Say Two U Professors

November 11, 2015

An editorial in the January, 2016 issue of the American Journal of Bioethics 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."