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Univ. of Maryland Gets $45M Gift to Support Autoimmune, Inflammatory Disease Research

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Faculty from the University of Maryland Institute for Genome Sciences will work closely with a new research "enterprise" the university is establishing for the study of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, funded through a $45 million gift from an Indiana businessman and his wife — the largest private donation ever received by the University System of Maryland.

The new enterprise will consist of two divisions, each of them existing research centers set to be expanded — the university's Mucosal Biology Research Center and Center for Celiac Research — as well as a new third division focused on the interaction between the human body and the microbes that inhabit it. The third division will draw upon IGS' expertise in the genomics of microbes on and within the human body, and how interaction with the human genome affects human health, the university said.

Alessio Fasano, a celiac disease researcher and professor of pediatrics, medicine and physiology at the university's School of Medicine, will direct the new research enterprise. Fasano now directs the Mucosal Biology Research Center and the Center for Celiac Research.

"Our goal is personalized medicine. We hope to identify biomarkers to develop diagnostics for autoimmunity that can assist us to develop preventive strategies in the pre-clinical phase as well as to customize treatment for individuals based on their genetics and their microbiome," Fasano said in a statement.

Of the Cafferty donation, $40 million will come from a private foundation in which the Caffertys are key stakeholders. The remaining $5 million will come to the School of Medicine directly from the Caffertys, for the purpose of funding an endowed distinguished professorship that supports a director position in perpetuity for the research enterprise.

Fasano will be the first recipient of that endowed professorship and the director position. He will oversee a research enterprise employing both basic and clinical scientists that will use celiac disease as a model for research into other autoimmune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and Type 1 diabetes, the university said.

"The enterprise will initially include 13 faculty members, with more to be recruited in the future. Dr. Fasano envisions it employing as many as 200 people once it is up and running," the university said in its statement.

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