University of Minnesota receives $2.4 million from Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation to create skin for human patients

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The University of Minnesota has been awarded $2.4 million from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation for research aimed at creating new skin for use in patients.

Among its many applications, the skin would be used to treat burns, repair congenital defects, heal injuries caused by accidents or sustained in combat and reconstruct skin damaged by cancer therapies.  

The three-year commitment will support the work of Jakub Tolar, M.D., Ph.D., director of the University’s Stem Cell Institute (the nation’s first) and a pioneer in the field of regenerative medicine. Producing the new skin involves taking a few cells from a patient’s skin, correcting errors in the gene if necessary, reproducing the cells and artificially creating three-dimensional skin to replace what the patient has lost.

Tolar and his colleagues have developed most of the steps in the process. Their next challenges are to create a biological scaffold for fabricating the three-dimensional skin and prove that the therapy is safe and effective.

“The gift will accelerate that process, so patients with burns, disfiguring injuries or the need for surgical reconstruction won’t have to wait as long for treatments,” said Tolar, who is also a member of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota.

He describes the potential impact of the treatment as “profound,” pointing out that skin, the largest organ in the body, helps control body temperature, keeps out infection and provides the body with crucial information about the environment. Damage to its highly sensitive nerve endings can cause excruciating pain, and visible injuries can be emotionally traumatic.

Tolar’s research builds on the University’s 40-plus-year history of innovation in stem cell science, including the first successful bone marrow transplant, the first use of umbilical cord blood as a source of stem cells for treating leukemia and lymphoma and the first use of stem cells to treat a usually fatal skin disease, recessive dystrophic epidermolysis, in children. 

These advances are occurring in the expanding field of regenerative medicine, which takes advantage of stem cells’ ability to reproduce themselves and give rise to specialized cell types that have the potential to treat a wide range of medical conditions. 

“The Stem Cell Institute is leading efforts to tap into the promise of regenerative medicine to find new treatments and cures for life-threatening illnesses,” said J. Brooks Jackson, M.D., vice president of the Academic Health Center and dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School. “This gift from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation is a testament to the hard work and vision of our researchers and clinicians. We are grateful that the foundation has chosen to partner with us to improve lives.”

“We are enthusiastic about the positive impact of this promising research, and we are delighted to continue our support of the University of Minnesota’s advancements in better health for all,” said Dick Schulze, founder of Best Buy and of the Schulze Family Foundation. In addition to this gift, the foundation has provided funding for scholarships in the College of Education and Human Development and for the University’s type 1 diabetes research. 

 

For requests related to the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, please contact Mark Dienhart at 952-324-8910 or mcdienhart@schulzefamilyfoundation.org.

The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation was created in 2004 by Best Buy founder and chairman emeritus Dick Schulze to benefit the lives of middle- and working-class families through entrepreneurial investments in education, health and human services that have the capacity to produce measurable and transformative results. The foundation is committed to investing $1 billion in grants to nonprofit organizations primarily in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area, where Best Buy began and where Schulze raised his family, and in the greater Naples-Fort Myers area, where Schulze resides.  

Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota is part of the University's Academic Health Center. It is designated by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center. For more information about the Masonic Cancer Center, visitwww.cancer.umn.edu or call 612-624-2620.

The University of Minnesota Medical School, with its two campuses in the Twin Cities and Duluth, is a leading educator of the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and the school’s 3,800 faculty physicians and scientists advance patient care, discover biomedical research breakthroughs with more than $180 million in sponsored research annually and enhance health through world-class patient care for the state of Minnesota and beyond. Visit www.med.umn.edu to learn more.