Promote biological science

The University has potential to capture a national leadership position.

One of the core principles for whatever you’re planning is to build on your strengths.

On Friday we, along with our colleagues on the Board of Regents, had the opportunity to do just that when we voted unanimously to ask the Minnesota Legislature to create a new way to fund biomedical research in this state.

Our resolution calls on the Legislature to create the Minnesota Biomedical Sciences Research Facilities Authority, which would enable the state to make long-term investments in world-class biomedical research that could benefit all Minnesotans.

Look no further than the address of the world headquarters of St. Jude Medical – 1 Lillehei Plaza in St. Paul – to see how the University helped trigger our thriving medical-device industry in the Twin Cities.

C. Walton Lillehei was a medical pioneer at the University in the 1950s and ’60s and often is described as the “father of open-heart surgery.” His groundbreaking work helped give birth to the state’s vibrant medical-device industry, including companies like St. Jude, Medtronic and Guidant.

The Minnesota Biomedical Sciences Research Facilities Authority would help us build on our already formidable strengths in this area to improve Minnesota’s long-term health – economically and from a human-health perspective. After all, this research is designed to reduce the burden of human disease.

Over the past decade, this University’s Academic Health Center and Medical School have focused investments in leading-edge areas of health sciences – the types of research where promising breakthroughs should emerge. Nearly $500 million has been invested in facilities, faculty and research in areas such as neurosciences, or diseases and conditions of the brain; in cancer research, leading to new vaccines among other treatments; and in immunology and infectious diseases, promising hope against future outbreaks.

It has become clear, however, that the state-bonding process is not structured for technologically sophisticated and expensive research facilities. At a time when the average cost of state-authorized projects is $5 million, these facilities each cost more than $60 million. The two most recent research buildings constructed both required two bonding cycles – a total of eight years – to get approval.

That’s just too long when 20 other states, including California, New Jersey and Wisconsin, are making enormous research investments in biomedical science.

However we address this need, we know the entire state stands to benefit from an increase in targeted biomedical research at the University. When we have the facilities to attract talented scientists, the University, its partners in health sciences research and in private industry – and this state – can capture a national leadership position in biomedical sciences.

The facilities-authority concept grew from the extensive and exciting discussions taking place at the University as it positions itself strategically for the future. This planning process is grounded in the realization that the state of Minnesota remains vital and vibrant as long as the University remains strong and positioned among the top tier in the nation.

This is a rare leadership moment for the state. Join us in asking the Legislature to take it. This is a step that could help improve the lives of Minnesotans for generations to come.

Anthony Baraga is chairman of the Board of Regents. He is a retired radiologist. John Frobenius is a member of the Board of Regents. He is a retired hospital administrator. Please send comments to [email protected].