Scientists in the regenerative medicine program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center already have been working on developing replacement bone and cartilage, blood vessels and pancreatic cells that make insulin, among other things.
Now, money provided by Omaha philanthropist Dick Holland will allow Nora Sarvetnick, the program's director, to recruit more scientists and provide seed funding for even more research.
Holland, 92, said Wednesday that he's “a half-baked science buff” who regards regenerative medicine “as one of the biggest advances in modern medicine.” He joked that he donated the money for the program because “I need a new nose.”
Turning serious, he said, “I'm interested in seeing things happen. I know in modern research, you can't go very far unless you've got some money.”
In honor of his donation, UNMC is holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony this afternoon to mark the naming of the Mary and Dick Holland Regenerative Medicine Program.
“He's a very forward-thinking individual,” Sarvetnick said of Holland. “He's extraordinarily bright. He's got a vision — really, a passion — for regenerative medicine.”
The field involves innovative approaches that will enable the body to repair, replace, restore and regenerate damaged or diseased cells, tissues and organs.
“It's really the biggest area that's going to impact health that we have,” Sarvetnick said. “This really changes disease outcomes.”
Regenerative medicine scientists around the world are working to repair damaged heart muscle after heart attacks, replace the skin of burn victims and restore movement after spinal cord injuries. Sarvetnick said there also is a lot of work being done in wound healing and neural stem cell replacement for people with dementia.
Sarvetnick is seeking to recruit kidney, gastrointestinal and neural-cell experts. “The whole strategy for this is to look at areas where the institution has a strong clinical presence and try to augment that with basic science and bioengineering.”
The Holland donation, she said, will allow recruiters to offer more competitive salary packages and pursue more senior-level researchers.
Four medical center researchers are conducting some basic research using existing human embryonic stem cell lines, but Sarvetnick said most of the emphasis is on adult stem cells and bioengineering.
“I think there's going to be a lot of exciting developments on the horizon,” she said. “We really want to be part of those groundbreaking discoveries.”