Dean's Message: Transformational

Jakub Tolar Headshot

(Photo: Patrick O’Leary)

If anyone had told us in October, the last time we published the Medical Bulletin, what the medical and social landscape would look like now, I’m not sure we would have believed them. Equally unbelievable is the scale of good that has come out of the COVID-19 crisis. Since March 13, when the national emergency was declared, the University and its Medical School have not just changed, but transformed. A few examples:

  • In a matter of weeks, our educational efforts shifted from hands-on training to online learning and use of virtual models. 
  • Telemedicine went from something “we need to do” to “done,” with hundreds of virtual visits to our clinics weekly.
  • Clinical trials ― made possible by the Herculean efforts of our clinical, regulatory, and research staff ― were launched within days to answer some of the most pressing questions around treatment of the virus, especially to provide critical data on the efficacy of the medications losartan, remdesivir, and hydroxychloroquine. We also are investigating ways to use the human body’s own natural killer cells to target the virus.
  • Anesthesiologists and biomedical engineers developed, tested, and received approval for a now-in-production low-cost ventilator, the plans of which have been freely shared worldwide. 
  • Work from the College of Veterinary Medicine that defined the molecular structure of the virus was handed off to immunologists in the Medical School’s Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics. Within three weeks, antibody testing for COVID-19, designed completely in-house and using reagents that we produced ourselves, was validated and operational. The Center for Immunology’s Marc Jenkins, Ph.D., who was just elected to the National Academy of Sciences, was integral to creating the antibody test.
  • Thanks to the M Health Fairview partnership, we were able to quickly equip and staff Bethesda Hospital to exclusively handle patients diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Collaborations with the College of Design produced new mask designs to help protect caregivers.
  • The Medical School collected and redeployed equipment from labs across campus to build a COVID-19 testing lab and develop a fully validated coronavirus test in five days.

Since mid-March, the University of Minnesota and the Medical School have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with truly extraordinary flexibility, collaboration, and inventiveness. The changes we are seeing are not just temporary measures, but will truly revolutionize the way we educate our students, perform research, and treat our patients.

Our thoughts are with you and yours in this difficult time. Stay safe. Be well.

Jakub Tolar, M.D., Ph.D.
Dean of the Medical School and Vice President for Clinical Affairs

Published on May 12, 2020

How to support our efforts

The Vice President’s Emergency Support Fund provides lifesaving patient care equipment like ventilators and protective gear, as well as funding for clinical trials and grants to support U researchers’ most innovative research ideas. More than 260 donors have generously supported the fund so far.

The U of M Caregiver Emergency Fund will ensure that frontline caregivers in clinics and hospitals, both here on campus and around the state, have the resources and equipment to serve patients safely as needs grow.

The U of M’s systemwide Student Emergency Fund supports students most significantly affected by COVID-19, helping them gain access to housing, food, tuition, mental health services, and transportation.  

Make a gift to any of these funds at give.umn.edu/covid-19.