The Diabetes Research Institute at the Miller School of Medicine received a $15 million gift from the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation. The gift was announced in September by Robert Pearlman, the foundation’s president and chief executive officer.

Pearlman was joined by University President Donna E. Shalala, Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., and Diabetes Research Institute Scientific Director Camillo Ricordi, M.D.

“The key to unlocking the mystery of this deadly disease is to continue our research, which would not be possible without the generous and steady support of the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation,” said Shalala. “This unprecedented 30-year partnership has allowed great advances toward bringing a solution to those suffering from the disease today.”

The new gift brings the foundation’s donations during the University’s Momentum campaign to $80 million. Since being created in 1971, the foundation has given about $120 million to the Diabetes Research Institute.

“We are proud to be able to make this gift and to grow hand-in-hand with the Diabetes Research Institute,” said Pearlman. “We never dreamed we would be able to contribute the initial $50 million, but we are deeply honored to be able to help move this important institute from very good to great and know that this gift will have a direct impact on patients seeking a solution.”

Finding a cure is the overriding mission of the Diabetes Research Institute, and it is recognized as a world leader in cure-focused research. Patients with type 1 diabetes who receive transplants go through a process where islet cells are isolated from donor pancreases and are infused into their liver. Once in the liver, the cells develop a blood supply and begin producing insulin. But patients still struggle while their bodies try to reject the new cells.

“This is a fabulous opportunity for the Miller School of Medicine to make an extraordinary difference in diabetes type 1 research,” said Goldschmidt. “This kind of support is simply unmatched in any place I’ve been in the U.S. or in the world. We are so fortunate to have supporters whose deep commitment and imagination champion our cause to find a cure. The vision of Dr. Ricordi and his team and the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation are in perfect synergy.”

Ricordi’s research enabled scientists to isolate insulin-producing cells from the pancreas when he invented the Ricordi Chamber, the core element of the process. Next, he developed a way to keep the cells viable long enough to transport them long distances. Ricordi and his colleagues have now extended their research efforts to identify a source of islet cells that is unlimited. One method involves stem cell research, and the other involves using animal sources of insulin, such as pig islets. They are also seeking ways to reduce or eliminate the need for the anti-rejection drugs transplant recipients must take.

“I couldn’t be more proud,” said Ricordi. “Moving this research from its very beginning stage—the hypothesis—to now see the first successes in patients is amazing. But the real heroes in this enterprise are the patients who have shown such tremendous courage and determination to beat this disease. But we as doctors must confront these two major challenges and continue the fight to find the cure.”