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University of Maryland Baltimore to Use $45M Gift to Create New Research Center

The University of Maryland Medical School has received a $45 million private gift from the family of a grateful patient.

UMMS will use the multi-million dollar gift to establish the nation's only research enterprise devoted to the study of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases such as celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and Type-1 diabetes.

The gift, from Indiana couple Ken and Shelia Cafferty, is the largest private donation in the history of the University System of Maryland. The planned research enterprise will be a full-fledged, multidisciplinary academic organization that includes and expands upon two of the school's outstanding research centers, the Mucosal Biology Research Center and the Center for Celiac Research. Alessio Fasano, M.D., a world renowned celiac disease researcher and professor of pediatrics, medicine and physiology at the School of Medicine, will direct the new research enterprise. Dr. Fasano is director of the Mucosal Biology Research Center and the Center for Celiac Research.

"For years, my wife struggled with severe symptoms, with no diagnosis and no treatment for her condition," says Ken Cafferty, a businessman from Carmel, Indiana, who is making the gift with his wife, Shelia, a registered nurse. "I endured this struggle with her, until Dr. Fasano and his staff at the Center for Celiac Research finally found answers for us, diagnosing Shelia with gluten sensitivity. We are making this gift hoping that this new enterprise will help provide answers for other families in the same position, and hopefully make strides toward a cure to provide permanent relief for patients like Shelia."

As is the case with all new research enterprises (institutes or centers), establishment of the research enterprise for autoimmunity research is subject to approval from University of Maryland School of Medicine leadership; a vote will take place in November.

The planned enterprise will have three divisions: one focused on celiac disease, the second on mucosal biology, and a third focused on microbe/host interaction. The third division, the newest of the three, will examine the intersection between the human body and the microbes that inhabit it. Faculty will work closely with faculty at the University of Maryland Institute for Genome Sciences, located in the University of Maryland BioPark in West Baltimore.

"We are assembling a critical mass of multidisciplinary expertise, building the best infrastructure that we can in order to investigate inflammation and autoimmunity from every possible medical and scientific perspective," says Dr. Fasano.

The institute's scientists will use celiac disease as a model for research into autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and diabetes. Autoimmune disorders occur when the body is triggered to misdirect its immune response and attack itself. Celiac disease is of particular value for the investigation of autoimmunity and inflammatory disease because it is the only autoimmune disorder for which scientists have identified a trigger in this case, gluten, a protein found in wheat that is nearly ubiquitous in the contemporary human diet.

Source: University of Maryland Medical Center
Writer: Walaika Haskins
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