How will we advance human health?

Forum: Oct. 14 | 8:30 a.m.–10:00 a.m. | Coffman Memorial Union, Campus Club, West Wing

The Right to be Human

Lead Submitter: Joseph R. Allen, Asian Languages and Literatures.
Co-Submitters: Evelyn Davidheiser, Institute for Global Studies; Carl Flink, Theatre Arts and Dance, Vinay Gidwani, Geography; David Odde, Biomedical Engineering; Shaden M. Tageldin, Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature; Klaas van der Sanden, Institute for Global Studies.

Our Challenge turns towards interior worlds as defined by science, art, social science, and the humanities to explore anew the conditions of being human. Rapid global changes and dramatic advances in disciplinary technologies both threaten and benefit us. We ask questions about consciousness, creativity, ethics, and communication, as seen through research and practice. What are the relationships between the brain and the rest of the body; individual and species; privacy and public good; marginalized communities and dominant powers? We also must address the counter challenge: the right to be nonhuman.

The University areas of strength for this project are creative arts, both plastic and performance; biological sciences and engineering, especially neuroscience and neuroengineering; social sciences, psychology being at the center, but including history and geography; and widely in humanities, especially at the intersections of language, media, and ethnicity studies. Each of these is represented by research teams and collaborative projects.

Neurobiology and Novel Therapeutic Targets of Psychotic-Spectrum Illnesses

Lead Submitters: David J. Bond, Associate Professor, Psychiatry; Kelvin O. Lim, Professor, Psychiatry

Illnesses that can cause psychosis—major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia—affect 1.5 billion people worldwide, and are highly disabling. The vast complexity of the brain has created challenges in understanding them, and far less is known about their biological basis or optimal treatment than other medical conditions. However, several “big science” projects currently underway will generate a profound increase in our knowledge of the brain over the next decade.

UMN’s long experience in treating and researching psychotic illnesses mean that we are uniquely positioned to use this knowledge to understand how aberrations in brain functioning cause psychotic illnesses, and to identify novel therapeutic targets. We have assembled a multidisciplinary team including clinicians and experts in brain imaging, genetics, pharmacology, novel treatments, and community engagement with the goals of 1) understanding the biological basis of psychotic illnesses, 2) developing more effective treatments, and 3) using this knowledge to benefit Minnesotans.

Building a Culture of Health and Wellbeing

Lead Submitter: Barbara F. Brandt, Associate Vice President for Education, Academic Health Center Director, National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education; Professor, Pharmaceutical Care and Health Systems
Co-Submitters: Kenneth Bartlett, Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development; Milton Eder, Populations and Community Engagement; Brian Isetts, Pharmaceutical Care and Health Systems; MaryJo Kreitzer, Center for Spirituality and Healing; Vanessa Laird, Center for Integrative Leadership; Daniel Pesut, Katherine J. Densford Center for Nursing Leadership; Sheila Riggs, Dentistry Primary Care; Brian Sick, Academic Health Center; Brandon Sullivan, Leadership and Talent Development; Daniel Zismer, MHA and Executive Studies Programs

Many systems, alignment, and payment issues stand between where we are today and a vision for a Culture of Health and Wellbeing where individuals are able to live the healthiest lives possible. To support progress toward such a culture, we propose an approach designed to prepare academic, research and clinician leaders with practical tools and resources needed to address grand challenges in society that stand between today’s status quo and our vision. This requires collaboration across sectors, organizations and communities to assess problems and implement solutions.

With Minnesota’s marks of distinction in health and policy, extensive cross-sector faculty expertise and the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education, UMN would lead the nation in supporting development of boundary-spanning clinicians, researchers and leaders who will address challenges by tackling significant and solvable issues affecting health in their communities and leverage new and existing relationships for greater collective impact.

Nano-Enabled Neuroscience

Lead Submitter: Stephen Campbell, Penrose Chair, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Director, Minnesota Nano Center

Understanding how the brain works requires measurements at the nanoscale, where brain activity actually occurs. Furthermore, methods are needed to sense and ultimately manipulate the activity of massive numbers of neurons (>>106) at this scale. Fortunately, the University of Minnesota has rich reservoirs of both talent and facilities in both neuroscience and nanotechnology. Likely avenues of approach include brilliant massively parallel electrode arrays, optogenetics, nanoparticles and other nanoscale structures, and new multimode approaches.

Researchers would be drawn primarily from CMRR and the departments of Neuroscience, Neurology, Psychiatry, Psychology, Biomedical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering, Chemistry, and Mechanical Engineering. A Grand Challenge initiative such as the one proposed here, one that explicitly demands cross collegiate collaboration, is the only way for Minnesota to make radical, game-changing advances in this vital area.

Development of Niger

Lead Submitter: James Carey, Professor, Program in Physical Therapy

Niger, located in sub-Saharan West Africa, is ranked by the UN as the least developed country in the world. The purpose of this proposal is not to follow the traditional humanistic path of sending food, clothing, money, etc to those in need. Instead, we will send ourselves to develop Niger into a healthier and modernized state through collaborative teaching/research/service at the Université Abdou Moumouni (UAM) in the capital city of Niamey. A seven-year relationship already exists between one of the departments on this proposal and UAM; thus, feasibility is high.

Through dialogue, participation in this proposal now extends to faculty/students from animal science, engineering, horticulture, international development, linguistics, medicine, physical therapy, public affairs, and water management. Ultimately, efforts for improving Niger’s health, water, food, etc will be sustained by working with Niger’s current and future leaders, i.e., UAM faculty/students, in combination with their government.

Emerging, Pandemic, and Treatment-Resistant Pathogenic Disease

Lead Submitter: Erin E. Carlson, Associate Professor, Chemistry and Graduate Faculty Member of Medicinal Chemistry, Biomedical Informatics and Computational Biology Program

The economic and environmental foundation that supports our planet and its increasingly interwoven societies will be severely challenged by the changing dynamics of pathogenic disease. Globalization, climate change and the scale of human population have provided the foundation for a perfect storm of emerging pathogens and global pandemics.

The University of Minnesota is uniquely poised to tackle this emergent threat because of the vast network of researchers and resources available to identify the master regulators of microbial pathogenesis, to apply these insights to the development and deployment of the next generation of diagnostics, antibiotics and vaccines and to devise powerful strategies to prevent the rapid spread of infection by the integrated application of the engineering design, medical technology, applied economic models, and public health strategies required for implementation of a global strategy for effective disease management.

Closing the Gaps (CTG) Initiative for Minority Youth: A Research-to-Practice Consortium

Lead Submitters: Clayton R. Cook, Educational Psychology; Amanda Sullivan, Educational Psychology

We propose the Closing the Gaps (CTG) Initiative that will put the UMN at the epicenter of global work involving the translation of research to practice to close the widespread opportunity and achievement gaps that exist for minority youth. This topic cuts across themes of fostering justice and equity, population health, and human potential and well-being in an increasingly diverse world. The CTG will involve three inter-related but distinct cross-disciplinary strands high-impact work that focus on addressing educational disparities: research partnerships, translational research, and dissemination, outreach, and community engagement.

The University of Minnesota is well-positioned to be a leader on this topic because of its faculty expertise, existing efforts to engage communities and educational systems (e.g., UROC, Generation Next, Educational Equity Resource Center), and existing resource infrastructure to supports collaboration across multiple levels to successfully execute high-impact research and ultimately scale-up dissemination efforts (e.g., UROC, CAREI).

Vaccine Development, Clinical Trials and Policy

Lead Submitter: Sunil A. David, Medicinal Chemistry

A pivotal component of our armamentarium against emerging infectious diseases is the development of safe and efficacious vaccines. Fundamental deficiencies exist in current vaccine development programs. With its numerous strengths and resources, the University of Minnesota is uniquely positioned to take on the challenge of developing new, alternate, paradigms for accelerating the discovery and development of vaccines in a cost-effective manner.

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) headed by Dr. Osterholm; the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) directed by Dr. Blazar; the Center for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Translational Research (CIDMTR), directed by Dr. Bohjanen; the Center for Immunology directed by Dr. Jenkins; the Institute for Therapeutics Discovery & Development (ITDD) directed by Dr. Georg; the Coordinating Center for Biometric Research at the School of Public Health, headed by Dr. Neaton; and faculty at the College of Veterinary Medicine, are but some of the many resources.

Unraveling the Riddle of Mind, Body, and Consciousness

Lead Submitter: Apostolos Georgopoulos, Neuroscience
Co-Submitter:  JB Shank, History

A crossdisciplinary effort can uncover the intricacies and depths of consciousness. The interdisciplinary nature of this problem—which has enchanted scientists and laymen alike since the beginning of time—is one to which we believe the University’s faculty and students are well positioned to make advances in current understanding. This is a Grand Challenge that draws the “mindfulness” and “embodied consciousness” from the practice of medicine and healthcare as well as the “cognitive turn” of the arts and humanities, and the “neurohistory” of historians. Recent developments in brain imaging, neuro-pharmacology, and cognitive science generate new knowledge. Further, the recent explosion of cognitive science research has also reoriented inquiry in new directions—from creating better artificial intelligence to redefining human states of consciousness to creating better policies for protecting brain injured patients. 

The explorations and applications of consciousness are complex and require the sustained exchange between disciplinary boundaries.  This continued exchange underpins the scholarly future of the University and opens the opportunity for scholars to collaborate in ways never before possible.

Understanding Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Lead Submitter: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni, Design, Housing, and Apparel

Neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are a grand challenge for two reasons: they are difficult to diagnose and treat, and they both have a pediatric onset, which means that early intervention can change lives for the individual sufferers, their families, and their communities. These disorders have global and local implications. OCD for example, is one of the world’s top 10 causes of disability based upon total lost pay and diminished quality of life.

Expanding understanding of neurodevelopmental disorders and forming diagnosis and treatment takes a multitude of disciplines—from the Medical School to the College of Design (to explore environmental factors that have impact, such as space layout, lighting, and acoustics) to the College of Science and Engineering (to develop automated processes via computer vision). Increasing understanding of neurodevelopmental disorders will take persistence and commitment and can only happen in a large research university with the faculty expertise and interdisciplinary breadth needed to pull this together.

Creating Health through Cross-Cultural Engagement

Lead Submitter: Craig Hassel, Food Science and Nutrition
Co-Submitters: Cindy Wilcox, AHCSH Spirituality and Healing; Derek Jennings, Pharmaceutical Science; John Finnegan, School of Public Health; Andy Furco, Office for Public Engagement; Alan Love, Philosophy; Len Marquart, Food Science and Nutrition

Community voices remind us that valuable human knowledge exists well beyond conventional parameters of academic/professional societies. How should academic professionals engage and interface with culturally diverse (non-biomedical) knowledge systems addressing the grand challenge of preserving and protecting human health?  

The University of Minnesota is uniquely positioned for this Grand Challenge. We must: take responsibility for our histories of oppression; invest in human relationships teaching us reciprocity, mutual respect and self-knowledge; be more fully open to what other cultures offer while honoring our commitments to “scientific integrity;” and transform habitual tendencies to distort, misinterpret, extract and misappropriate knowledge. We are uniquely situated among comprehensive, public land-grant research universities.  Within a 15-mile radius of our Twin Cities campus, over 50 different languages are spoken. We serve the largest urban Hmong population, the largest Somali population, the second largest urban indigenous population in the U.S., and have 11 reservations within Minnesota whose members assert sovereignty and reclaim indigenousness.

Personalized Medicine

Lead Submitter: Bin He, Institute for Engineering in Medicine Biomedical Engineering
Co-Submitters: John Bischof, Mechanical Engineering; Wei Chen, Radiology; Arthur Erdman, Mechanical Engineering; Kalpna Gupta, Medicine; Allison Hubel, Mechanical Engineering; Paul Iaizzo, Surgery; Kelvin Lim, Psychiatry; David Odde, Biomedical Engineering; Bob Tranquillo, Biomedical Engineering; Jianping Wang, Electrical and Computer Engineering

With the aging demographics of our population, the cost of routine healthcare is soaring; moreover, many diseases remain difficult to diagnose, prevent or effectively treat in people of all ages. Our vision for “Personalized Medicine” is to vastly increase our fundamental biological understanding using affordable engineering solutions with under-utilized technological advancements for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention on an individualized basis. The realization of early disease detection and diagnosis, along with individualized treatment and prevention, can significantly improve the quality of life for all ages and tremendously lower the economic burden on our health care system.

UMN is uniquely positioned to tackle this grand challenge, with many world-class research programs in medical imaging, cancer biology, cardiovascular and neural engineering, and medical devices. UMN is one of only a few institutions with a broad spectrum of comprehensive programs in both medicine and engineering needed to tackle the grand challenge of personalized medicine.

Aging and Chronic Care

Lead Submitter: Robert L. Kane, School of Public Health
Co-Submitters: Jim Pacala, Family Medicine and Community Health; Jean Wyman, Nursing Academic Programs

By 2035, 1.3 million Minnesotans will be aged 65+; of whom 67 percent will have 3 or more chronic conditions and 25 percent will be functionally dependent with complex medical and social needs. Our land grant institution has a responsibility to support innovative cross-disciplinary thinking about the pressing social and moral issue of caring for our aging society.

Our society’s approach to care of the aged has resulted in a system that is expensive, inefficient, technology-laden, overinvested in medical services, underinvested in social services, and overly focused on quantity rather than quality of life. These themes transpire in an environment of special interest groups and industries. We are ripe for change but need interdisciplinary solutions. The University is well-positioned to lead; faculty and students across 15 schools could engage in research that improves the lives of older adults in our state and globally. We can begin by bringing together people from across the campus; we also need to connect practitioners with researchers, implementers with policy people, social scientists with operations people.

Capitalizing on Strengths in Microbiota Therapeutics at the University of Minnesota

Lead Submitter: Alexander Khoruts, Medicine; Associate Professor, Division of Gastroenterology
Co-Submitters: Michael Sadowsky, BioTechnology Institute and Soil, Water, and Climate; Dan Knights, BioTechnology Institute and Computer Science and Engineering

Microbial communities (microbiota) inhabiting the human body are critical to our physiology, disease, and health. Different diets and widespread use of antibiotics have brought changes to microbiota within our population in ways that constitute a potential catastrophe. Altered microbiota is an important contributor to the epidemics of many modern diseases including: many associated with obesity (e.g., diabetes, cancer), gut diseases, allergic and autoimmune disorders. Academic institutions around the country have recognized the importance of the microbiome, pouring tens of millions of dollars into new research.

The University of Minnesota stands in a unique position to build on its established leadership role in developing microbiota therapeutics, which heals diseases by restoring healthy microbial communities in the body. This is ultimately what patients and the entire field need most. Our strength going forward is in our diverse faculty in biomedical sciences, engineering, ecology, and ethics, which can be united into a world-class research powerhouse.

Materials for Advancing Nanomedicine

Lead Submitter: Efie Kokkoli, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science

Nanomedicine, the use of nanotechnology in the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, is an emerging field with potential to revolutionize individual and population-based health care. However, nanomedicine follows a “one-size-fits-all” approach, in which the same nanomaterial can be used, for example, in different cancer types in the clinic. Considering though our recent ability to match therapies to the tumor’s genetic signature and tailor them to each patient, the design of materials that can advance personalized nanomedicine is exciting and defines the future of treating different diseases.

The University of Minnesota is well positioned to make a difference in this area as it has the faculty and facilities to seed this effort and make this opportunity a timely investment that will propel our University’s reputation as the world leader in nanomedicine. The impact in life quality of millions of patients will be the most important outcome of this effort.

Obesity Prevention: A Grand Challenge the University is Positioned to Address

Lead Submitters: Co-Directors of the Obesity Prevention Center, Division of Epidemiology & Community Health, School of Public Health: Lisa Harnack, Professor; Melissa Laska, Associate Professor

More than one-third of Americans are obese, and as a result are at increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and numerous other diseases. Obesity prevention is key, since treatments are costly and have limited long-term effectiveness. Our research teams, representing a wide range of disciplines (e.g., nutrition, epidemiology, policy, computer science, economics, biostatistics, psychology, medicine, and more) are internationally known for rigorous research in developing and evaluating innovative obesity prevention strategies.

Examples include: Increasing school breakfast participation in rural adolescents. (M. Nanney, Medicine); evaluating local policies to improve healthy food access. (M. Laska, Public Health); improving the frequency and quality of family meals. (J. Fulkerson, Nursing); reducing sugary beverage portion sizes through pricing interventions. (S. Gollust, Public Health); using standing workstations to improve health in worksites. (M. Periera, Public Health). Targeting obesity prevention as a Grand Challenge will bolster our existing research efforts and spur new and innovative ideas.

Toward the Conquest of Disease

Lead Submitter: Clarence Lehman, Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior
Co-Submitter: Tucker LeBien, Academic Health Center

Eradicating infectious disease, or subduing it where that is not possible, is one of the feasible grand challenges of our time. We propose integrating novel ecological ideas with those from medicine and public health to address the conquest of disease—incorporating understanding of disease in humans, wild and domestic animals, crops and other plants. Some might reasonably object that it is impossible to conquer disease because disease is part of the ecology of life. But we do change our ecology. Dr. William Foege, who orchestrated the elimination of smallpox from the natural world, explains that we can conquer diseases because we evolve more rapidly than pathogens—we socially and they biologically. We turn the tables and attack the disease. Thus far that has eliminated two major diseases of the world.


Given the University's research and educational strengths in biology, ecology, medicine, and public health, this grand challenge offers great opportunities.

Slow the Aging Process and Extend Human Healthspan

Lead Submitter: Ling Li, Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology
Co-Submitter: Walter Low, Neurosurgery

Our society is aging at an unprecedented pace. Life expectancy has been increasing over the years. However, many of those who exceed the average life expectancy suffer a very poor quality of life due to significant health problems, posing great challenges to health care systems and national economies along with emotional and financial burden on the patients and their families. Strategies to increase the quality of life at advanced age are therefore greatly needed, both at the level of individuals and society.

The University hosts a large number of leading investigators who are engaged in a wide spectrum of cutting-edge research on aging and age-related diseases, from organ rejuvenation, mitochondrial dysfunction, frailty, and dementia to social infrastructure and policy. The goal of this proposal is to harness the collective power of basic, clinical, and social science research at the University and develop a program to promote healthy aging.

Microbiome Grain Foods and Health

Lead Submitter: Len Marquart, Professor, Food Science and Nutrition
Co-Submitters: Dan Knights, BioTechnology Institute; Michael Sadowsky, BioTechnology Institute

Scientific evidence indicates microbial communities residing in the gastrointestinal tract play a crucial role in health and disease. Increasingly evident is that diet is important in the establishment and maintenance of a microbial ecosystem that supports good health. Epidemiological studies provided insights into components of whole grains and influence on gut health. More research is needed to understand the impact of whole grain consumption on host metabolism and gut microbial communities. Additionally, the modulation of gut microbiota with probiotics and prebiotics is suggested as a treatment of, or prevention for irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and allergies. Establishing a public-private partnership to examine the impact of whole grains and other food/ food components on the microbiome may fill a scientific gap in linking food to health outcomes.

This cross-sector partnership would span the University’s discovery, education, and outreach missions and would engage external partners such as General Mills, Cargill, etc., to leverage academic research to develop innovative products for consumers that promote gut health.

The 10,000 Families Study

Lead Submitter: Heather Nelson, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health
Co-Submitters: Logan Spector, Pediatrics; Ellen Demerath, Epidemiology; Bharat Thyagarajan, Lab Medicine and Pathology; Anna Prizment, Epidemiology; DeAnn Lazovich, Epidemiology; Nicole Basta, Epidemiology; Shalini Kulasingam. Epidemiology; Alvaro Alonso, Epidemiology; Silvia Balbo, Environmental Health; Jen Poytner, Pediatrics; Susan Mason, Epidemiology

The Grand Challenge: Addressing critical gaps in knowledge of disease causation by establishing a population resource to identify the biological, social and environmental factors that shape human health. We will enroll 10,000 families into a long-term, prospective cohort study covering three generations of Minnesotans (~100,000 individuals). Our novel approach of following families provides unmatched flexibility to study the determinants of health across the life course. We will bank bio-specimens, collect exposure histories, and link to participants’ electronic medical records. Health outcomes will be collected at appropriate intervals. Our study will be a platform for translational research initiatives.

UMN strengths: Our proposal builds on the expanding capacity for informatics, genomics and microbiome research at the University. We have substantial experience in cohort research and a strong collaborative research environment. With an engaged, educated, and stable populace, Minnesota is the ideal state in which to assemble such a cohort.

Harnessing University and Community Assets to Achieve Health Equity: A Grand Challenge

Lead Submitter: Kolawole Okuyemi, Professor, Family Medicine and Community Health.
Co-Submitters: Faculty in Program in Health Disparities Research; Clinical and Translational Science Institute; Masonic Cancer Center; and Minnesota Center for Cancer Collaboration

Despite Minnesota’s high ranking nationally in overall health status, its underserved populations experience disproportionately poor health. Globally, the poorest of the poor have high levels of illness and premature mortality which makes addressing health inequities both a matter of social justice and an ethical imperative. Because the causes of health disparities are complex, solutions require a synergistic interplay of multiple disciplines.

This proposal builds on the expertise of a growing critical mass of faculty across multiple disciplines at the UMN. Using an asset-based model, we have established Community Advisory Boards, held community dialogues, conducted health checkups in barbershops/beauty salons, and awarded community-academic collaborative research and dissemination grants. In the U.S., Minnesota has the largest population of Somalis, the largest population of Native Americans in an urban area, and the second largest Hmong population. This creates a tremendous opportunity for developing innovative cross-cultural models and strategies to achieve health equity.

Vibrant Communities—Treating Sensory Deficits

Lead Submitter: Andrew J. Oxenham, Psychology
Co-Submitters: Gordon Legge, Psychology; Peggy Nelson, SLHS; Hubert Lim, BME; Meredith Adams, Otolaryngology; Sandra Motezuma, Ophthalmology

Sensory deficits, such as hearing loss and low vision, affect hundreds of millions worldwide. Such deficits can have a devastating social impact on individuals, with serious economic consequences for society. Treatments, such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, and retinal implants, remain at best incomplete and are in need of radical improvement.

The University of Minnesota has a unique concentration of internationally leading researchers in auditory and visual sciences, with a particular focus on hearing loss and low vision. This expertise is augmented by strong links between scientists (Psychology, SLHS), engineers (BME, EECS), and clinicians (Otolaryngology, Ophthalmology), providing an outstanding environment for novel, transdisciplinary approaches to solving this critical problem. In addition, the Twin Cities area has a large number of hearing aid and other medical device companies, many of whom already have productive partnerships with University labs. The time is right to harness this unique environment to tackle this grand challenge.

Reconfiguring Minnesota’s Poultry Industry to Reduce Risk of Future Influenza Outbreaks

Lead Submitter: Patrick T. Redig, Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine

The inability to foresee and control the 2015 avian influenza epidemic, the demonstrated vulnerability of the current industry operations, and the likelihood of HPAI re-occurrence in Minnesota argues for a new approach. The new approach, the Grand Challenge, would be to create a sustainable system with inherent resistance and resilience in a world with continuously changing biochallenges. A production system that is ecologically compatible with the region’s biogeography (prairies and wetlands with abundant waterfowl populations), the intercontinental movements of wild birds and the dynamics of influenza virus biology is critical to ensuring the economic strength of an industry inherently important to Minnesota’s economy.

A multidisciplinary systems-based model is needed where resistance to influenza is innate and multi-layered by virtue of built-in factors such as the genetic diversity of the birds, the design of facilities, flock management, and the sustainability of feed and energy inputs to operations.

Scaling Evidence-Based Prevention Programs through Pay-for-Success Financing

Lead Submitters: Arthur Reynolds, Co-Director of HCRC and Professor of Child Development; Judy Temple, Professor, Applied Economics, and Director, Early Childhood Policy Certificate; Art Rolnick, Senior Fellow, Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Gerald August, Director of CPPR and Professor of Family Social Sciences; Abigail Gewirtz, Professor of Family Social Sciences and Director, Prevention Science Minor

In the realm of social programs for children and families, fewer than 5% of efficacy and effectiveness trials are scaled to their intended populations at local, state, or larger levels. This is primarily a problem of insufficient resources and inadequate collaborations. Innovations in social impact investing provide a unique opportunity to address the barriers to scaling. Social impact bonds or human capital bonds implementing “Pay for Success” financing provide a feasible and growing approach to scaling that has been successfully applied at the University by the Human Capital Research Collaborative (HCRC). Such novel approaches were recommended in the TC Campus Strategic Plan as a strategy for advancing a cross-disciplinary Grand Challenges research agenda, with private and public funders investing in long-term work likely to achieve real impact.

We expand on this approach in a concerted children’s prevention initiative between faculty of the HCRC and the Center for Personalized Prevention Research in Children’s Mental Health. Two early childhood development programs will be emphasized for scaling: Midwest Child-Parent Centers and Early Risers.

Salivary Biomarkers for the Diagnosis of Cancer

Lead Submitter: Nelson L. Rhodus, Professor, Diagnostic and Biological Sciences; Adjunct Professor, Otolaryngology
Co-Submitters: Timothy Griffin, Biochemistry; Frank Ondrey, Otolaryngology; John Carlis, Computer Science

When diagnosed late, cancer kills. But when discovered early, survival rates soar. Oral cancer has a miserable 50% survivor rate but upwards of 90% when discovered early. Our widely interdisciplinary team has been conducting research on biomarkers for early detection of oral cancer and breast cancer for over 10 years. Our team has been investigating methods for sampling and discovering biomarkers of cancer in a non-invasive fashion. These samples are ideally suited for our system-wide analysis using genomic and proteomic technologies for protein biomarker discovery. Global impact: the largest to-date quantitative catalogue of the oral cancer saliva proteome, which informs the selection of candidate saliva protein biomarkers from patient samples and a panel of promising saliva protein biomarkers—providing an important step towards non-invasive, early detection of cancer.

Our investigative team here is uniquely poised to further develop these emerging genomic and proteomic strategies to identify non-invasively collected biomarkers that could improve the early diagnosis of cancer and improve survival rates.

The Grand Challenge of Brain Health

Lead Submitter: Francis X. Shen, Associate Professor of Law

Have you or a loved one been touched by stress, anxiety, depression, dementia addiction, autism, ADHD, depression, PTSD, or some other brain disorder? Has your child or someone you love struggled to perform cognitively at school or emotionally at home? For most the answer to these questions is a resounding yes. Internationally and at home we face the grand challenge of brain health.

The University of Minnesota can become internationally recognized as the leader in brain health. What’s more, we can do it without hiring a single new faculty member. There are a vast number of existing research centers and individual researchers already focusing on brain issues, but they are not yet collaborating. Brain-related research is already underway in virtually every part of the University. This existing potential can be harnessed into a Minnesota Model of Brain Health, spanning the lifespan from the prenatal brain through the aging brain.

Transforming the Biomedical Research Training Paradigm for the 21st Century

Lead Submitter: Yoji Shimizu, Laboratory Medicine and Pathology

This grand challenge seeks to transform the biomedical research training paradigm throughout the educational continuum (middle school, high school, undergraduate, and graduate) in order to accelerate discoveries that improve human health. The challenge seeks to utilize an integrated approach that will allow the University of Minnesota to innovate and successfully address fundamental issues in biomedical research and education that are not being effectively addressed today, including developing resilience and grit in students, training emerging scientists in entrepreneurship, teamwork and communication in order to prepare students to work in transdisciplinary teams, developing training models that integrate research experiences across the educational continuum and reduce the overall training timeline, and effectively increasing the diversity of the biomedical research workforce.

The University of Minnesota has community partnerships and strengths in biomedical research and science education that can be leveraged to develop a new approach to biomedical research training that will have national impact.

Establishing a Sports Nutrition Center at the University of Minnesota

Lead Submitter: Joanne Slavin, Professor, Food Science and Nutrition
Co-Submitters: Renee Korczak, Food Science and Nutrition; Carrie Peterson, Food Science and Nutrition; Daheia Barr-Anderson, Kinesiology; Brittany Francis, Athletics; Quincy Lewis, Athletics

This Grand Challenge idea focuses on the development of a Sports Nutrition Center at the University of Minnesota. In comparison to other Big Ten schools, the University is behind in sports nutrition. The area of sports nutrition is continuing to expand due to the large number of students and student athletes who want to learn about optimal nutrition during performance and gain careers in this field.

The University is well positioned to grow this area by hiring more full-time dietitians to work with our sports teams and leverage the knowledge of experienced faculty across various departments. For example, Food Science and Nutrition has skilled faculty in all nutrition topics, including carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, fluids and electrolytes, and nutrition across the life cycle. Our expertise in food science is also important to help design foods and beverages with appropriate nutrient composition for the wide range of athletes. Finally, by bridging the gap between the Food Science and Nutrition and Athletics, we can work towards the implementation of a Sports Nutrition Center.

Precision Medicine and Health

Lead Submitter: Robert Straka, Professor and Head, Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology
Co-Submitters: Pamala Jacobson, Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology; Peter Igarashi, Medicine; Susan M. Wolf, Medicine & Public Policy; Faegre Baker Daniels, Law, Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment & the Life Sciences; Saonli Basu, Division of Biostatistics

The University of Minnesota should become a national leader in precision medicine and health. Precision medicine is an emerging approach that uses individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle to “individualize” prevention and treatments. It requires a transdisciplinary framework integrating healthcare, public health, behavioral and social sciences, environment, health disparities, law, ethics, economics, and public policy. Earlier this year, the U.S. government launched a major Precision Medicine Initiative.

The U is ideally positioned to lead nationally in developing this next-generation approach to diagnosis and treatment. Investigators in pharmacology, genomics, biostatistics, informatics, public health, law, and ethics are already collaborating on funded research and building essential connections. Involving more faculty, trainees, and students in a cross-University effort—and leveraging partnerships with Minnesota’s leading healthcare systems, medical industry, and patients—will allow us to lead in this revolutionary new approach to medicine and to translate cutting-edge discoveries into health solutions.

Restoring Health: Organ Regeneration and Repair for People and Animals

Lead Submitter: Jakub Tolar, Pediatrics
Co-Submitter: Walter Low, Neurosurgery

Medical care’s most significant burden is management of chronic disease. Changing the paradigm of health care from chronic disease management to restoration of normal health through organ/cell replacement and repair would transform the lives of people, animals and societies. We are proposing a Grand Challenge that will provide the solution for shortages in replacement organs, repair of aged or damaged organs, and correction of genetic damage to organs/cells. The technologies to address these issues are based on stem cells and gene engineering. These advances can produce healthy replicas of a person’s or animal’s organs/cells, repair damaged portions of existing organs, or replace damaged or missing genes.

The new technologies of TALEN gene editing and stem cells that will propel this Grand Challenge were developed by faculty at the University of Minnesota who are internationally known for their leadership in these research areas and who provide exceptional strength for this proposal.

Circuit-based Neuromodulation for Brain Disorders

Lead Submitter: Jerrold Vitek, Neurology
Co-Submitters: Bin He, Biomedical Engineering/IEM; Matt Johnson, Biomedical Engineering / IEM; Tay Nestoff, Biomedical Engineering /IEM; Arthur Erdman, Medical Device Center; Michael Park, Neurosurgery; Ken Baker, Neurology; Scott Cooper, Neurology; Colum MacKinnon, Neurology; Paul Tuite, Neurology; Timothy Ebner, Neuroscience; Erin Holker, PM&R; Jonathan Gewirtz, Psychology; Monica Luciana, Psychology; Moan Harel, Radiology/CMRR

Nervous system disorders affect 1 in 5 Americans at an annual cost of ~$500 billion. With the aging population these disorders will continue to grow in number and cost. Effectively treating these disorders is a Grand Challenge that the University is well positioned to address. Most drugs provide only temporary, if any, relief, for many of these conditions, leaving patients and families desperately seeking new therapeutic interventions to improve quality of life and lessen the economic burden. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) delivers electrical stimulation within abnormal brain circuits to restore function.

Leveraging our strengths in imaging and DBS together with other forms of neuromodulation, the University is at the forefront for development of circuit based treatments for these complex and debilitating brain conditions. We are uniquely positioned to undertake this Grand Challenge because of wide faculty clinical expertise, interdisciplinary research strengths, existing infrastructure, and senior leadership across schools and colleges.

Center for Accessible Cancer Immunotherapy

Lead Submitter: Carston Wagner, Medicinal Chemistry

Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide. In 2015, it is estimated that in the U.S. over 1.6 million new cancer cases and nearly 600,000 deaths will be attributed to cancer. Recently there has been tremendous excitement over the potential to harness a patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Despite the remarkable preliminary clinical success of these methods, there are significant technical hurdles that prevent them from being widely used and cost-effective. Current therapies can cost over $250,000, putting an enormous financial burden on health care systems. In addition, cell-based therapies require highly trained staff and sophisticated production facilities that only a few major health care centers are capable of providing.

To overcome these limitations, we propose to establish a multidisciplinary Center for Accessible Cancer Immunotherapy (CACI) whose goal is to develop new cost-effective and portable approaches for activating, targeting and tracking immune cells for the treatment of cancer.