MINNEAPOLIS, MN - June 10, 2019 – University of Minnesota Medical School researcher Bernhard Hering, MD, professor in the Department of Surgery and holder of the Jeffrey Dobbs and David Sutherland, MD, PhD Chair in Diabetes Research, today received a $100,000 grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) to advance islet and kidney transplantation without the requirement of anti-rejection drugs.

More than 100 million adults are now living with diabetes or prediabetes in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Native Americans (American Indians and Alaska Natives) are at a much greater risk of developing diabetes than any other U.S. racial group. The number of Native American deaths from diabetes continues to rise in Minnesota. According to the University of Minnesota Memory Keepers Medical Discovery Team, which studies diabetes and dementia in Native populations, from 2013 to 2016 the number of deaths in the state caused by diabetes increased by more than 100.

“Over the past decade, diabetes care has greatly improved,” said Hering. “However, despite a great investment in preventive care such as education, nutritional counseling and advancements in novel blood sugar lowering medications and diabetes technologies, including sensors and pumps, diabetes has remained the leading cause of kidney failure and other serious complications.” Hering’s research will focus on the population of people who have developed kidney failure despite these improvements in diabetes care. For patients with kidney failure, dialysis or kidney transplantation are the only treatments that can sustain life.

While dialysis extends life for people with kidney failure, quality of life and survival are notably higher with a kidney transplant. The University of Minnesota has a rich history in kidney transplantation. In the early 1970s, its transplant program was instrumental in making kidney transplants available and accessible to people living with diabetes. The new research will continue the University’s legacy of innovation and cutting-edge advancements in kidney transplant.

To prevent rejection of a transplanted kidney, transplant recipients have to take medications to suppress the immune system. These so-called immunosuppressive drugs effectively prevent acute transplant rejection; however, their significant side effects and ineffectiveness in preventing chronic rejection remain fundamental impediments that have compromised transplant recipients’ overall health. Because a growing number of chronically immunosuppressed transplant recipients face these risks, which adversely affect their survival, transplantation immunologists have pursued immune tolerance as the primary goal in the field of transplantation medicine. Inducing tolerance to transplants would eliminate the need for chronic immunosuppression and enhance transplant success and patient survival.

“Improving protocols for kidney transplantation could be life-changing for patients with type 2 diabetes and remove a financial burden for an entire community,” said Hering.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s generous gift, which will fund Hering’s research on immunosuppression-free transplantation, was presented at the 23rd annual Golf Classic “Fore” Diabetes Research on June 10 at The Meadows at Mystic Lake. The tribe has also sponsored the annual tournament since 2015, contributing $300,000 in total to the fundraising event that supports the University of Minnesota’s Schulze Diabetes Institute. To date, the event has raised over $7 million dollars for diabetes research at the institute.
The Dakota people have a long-standing tradition of helping others, which the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community honors with its strong commitment to philanthropy. The Minnesota tribe has donated more than $350 million to tribes and organizations across the region, state and country, making SMSC the single largest philanthropic benefactor for Indian Country and a top philanthropist in the state.

“Many Minnesotans struggle with diabetes, including nearly 20,000 Native American people across our state,” said SMSC Chairman Charles R. Vig. “This research is extremely important for these individuals and their loved ones. Our community is happy to help make it possible.”

About the University of Minnesota Medical School
The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and educating the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. Visit med.umn.edu to learn how the University of Minnesota is innovating all aspects of medicine.

About the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is a federally recognized, sovereign Dakota tribal government located southwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Following a Dakota tradition of generosity, the SMSC is one of the top philanthropists in Minnesota and is the largest contributor to other tribal governments and causes across the country. It is a strong community partner and a leader in protecting and restoring natural resources. The SMSC’s government, Gaming Enterprise and various other enterprises are collectively the largest employer in Scott County and attract millions of visitors to the region.