Five – Year Plan to Find a Functional Cure for Diabetes: 2003 – 2004

Dr. Jose Oberholzer addresses the WSHF Board Of Directors and his fellow researchers to commence a groundbreaking research grant

Much of Washington Square Health Foundation’s funding allocations provide needed services and equipment to the Chicagoland area. The Foundation, however, also provides funds in areas that might affect a larger geographic scope and population, through its Medical Education and Medical Research program areas. One such Research Grant in the 2003 – 2004 fiscal year was allocated to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), to help organize and implement a 5-Year Plan to Find a Functional Cure for Diabetes.

The Washington Square Health Foundation has been of the belief for some time that a cure for diabetes is possible with today’s scientific knowledge and technology. The key to finding a cure is to find researchers with that knowledge who will commit to the project. Organizing those medical researchers together in an open and collaborative forum with the common goal to cure diabetes in a given timeframe seemed to be the best means to discover and develop a cure. In the fall of 2003, a serendipitous event occurred that made that vision seem possible.

“The Chicago Project” team meets at the Conference to share ideas and develop “The Plan.

Executive Director Howard Nochumson attended a luncheon reception held by the Dean of the UIC College of Medicine to welcome, Dr. Jose Oberholzer (right), the new Director of Cell Transplantation at UIC, a transplant surgeon and scientist researcher. At the luncheon Mr. Nochumson discussed his vision of a diabetes cure plan with Dr. Oberholzer, who proved to be of a similar mind on the subject and was confident that he could assemble a group of scientists that would be eager to participate in such a project. In developing a plan, it became evident that a team of researchers from a variety of fields would have to be on board to work together on a multi-faceted plan that would utilize all of their areas of expertise in order to carry out the ambitious goal of this project. Mr. Nochumson’s vision for a cure came in a project modeled after the Manhattan Project. Dr. Oberholzer’s vision was modeled after the G-nome Project. What has developed, in this case, is “The Chicago Project.”

Through an international collaboration among scientists, a series of experiments will be conducted during the first four years of the project with the goal of producing human clinical trials of a functional cure for diabetes by year five. No other existing research program is integrating transplantation with developmental biology, chemistry, cell biology, molecular biology and engineering in a direct collaboration. In addition, the participating scientists, (pictured above) are among the strongest in their respective fields and many have collaborated on previous projects.

WSHF President Angelo P. Creticos, MD (center), and WSHF Grant Committee Chairman William N. Werner, MD, MPH (right), express their enthusiasm for “The Chicago Project” to Dr. Jose Oberholzer, Project Coordinator (left)

The collaboration officially began on October 3, 2004 with a Washington Square Health Foundation sponsored research conference that brought together 11 researchers from all over the world. The Foundation’s President, Angelo P. Creticos, MD led the evening by welcoming all of those present for being a part of the great event, extending the Foundation’s support and inspiring them to “stay the course” and keep their eyes firmly fixed on the potential of a cure for diabetes during the following three days. In those days to follow, the 11 researchers would partake in an intensive conference analyzing the problems facing the development of a cure for diabetes and building a plan of action.

The result of this most successful conference, the lay (non-scientific) version of the Five Year Plan to Develop a Functional Cure For Diabetes, is highlighted on our special events page, as it was first “unveiled” at the December 8, 2004 Dinner hosted by the University of Illinois College of Medicine and Washington Square Health Foundation.

The Foundation is certain that the grant made to initiate this project will leave an indelible print on how medical research is conducted today and in the future. It is also hopeful that the grant will lead to a functional cure for diabetes within five years