Iowa City-area research institute benefiting from ice bucket challenge

Catholic organizations encouraging people to donate to John Paul II Medical Research Institute

By Erin Jordan, The Gazette
Published: August 27 2014 | 5:30 pm - Updated: 27 August 2014 | 5:36 pm in News,

IOWA CITY — An Iowa City-area research institute has received donations from around the world as Catholic organizations encourage members to route their Ice Bucket Challenge gifts to an organization that doesn’t do research on embryonic stem cells.

The John Paul II Medical Research Institute, founded in 2008 by Dr. Alan Moy, an Iowa City pulmonologist, has gotten “hundreds of thousands” of dollars in donations from people who want to support research on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), but don’t want the research done with human embryos, said CEO Jay Kamath.

“We serve as an alternative to them to donate money that aligns with their values,” Kamath said Wednesday.

The non-profit institute, which employs three researchers at the University of Iowa’s BioVentures Center in Coralville, has developed a platform for research on adult stem cells, but so far hasn’t done any studies on ALS, he said.

“We haven’t had the funding streams,” Kamath said.

But that’s changing.

Donations have been pouring in since Catholic organizations, such as the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and Archdiocese of St. Louis, issued statements encouraging Catholics to donate money to the institute rather than the ALS Association, which started the Ice Bucket Challenge July 29.

The challenge asks people to post videos of themselves being doused with icy water and/or make a donation to an ALS charity. The ALS Association has so far raised more than $94 million from the drive.

The Archdiocese of Dubuque is the latest group to ask Catholics to steer donations to the John Paul II institute.

“Donating to the ALS Association is inconsistent with Catholic moral teaching as it promotes stem cell research that destroys embryonic human beings,” Archbishop Michael Jackels wrote in the statement released late Tuesday online and to leaders of 166 parishes in northeastern Iowa.

“The JP2MRI is a secular non-profit research institute that is guided by a pro-life bioethics to advance technology for the treatment of diseases such as ALS, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases,” he wrote.

The institute named after former Pope John Paul II is clearly aligned with the Catholic Church. Its board includes Bishop Martin Amos, of the Davenport Diocese; Bishop Robert Finn, of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph; and Isaac Doucette, deputy grand knight of the Knights of Columbus Iowa Council.

The institute’s primary purpose, as described on its 2012 tax form, was “to educate scientists and the next generation of scientists in pro-life bioethics.”

The institute brought in $114,227 in revenue in 2012, the most recent tax year available online. Revenue in 2011 was $34,521 and in 2010, $42,123. The bulk of the group’s $105,960 spending in 2012 was $75,000 in salaries.

The institute tweeted Aug. 24 that its 2013 tax form would be posted shortly, but that information is not yet available on guidestar.org or on the institute’s website.

The institute has been working to develop a registry of patients with ALS, cancer and other diseases, Kamath said. Moy, the scientific director, collects tissue samples from patients who want to participate in research. The institute partners with Cellular Engineering Technologies of Coralville to grow stem cells from those patients, Kamath said.

The institute launched a $1 million fundraising campaign last spring to set up a “clean room” so researchers can do clinical research themselves, rather than partnering with other laboratories, Kamath said.

While the bulk of the institute’s research so far has been on cancer, staff expect to ramp up ALS research based on the Ice Bucket Challenge.

ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Patients in later stages may become paralyzed.

The ALS Association, established in 1985, has funded more than $99 million in research and clinical management projects on the disease, according to the group’s website. The association is now funding nearly 100 research projects.

The ALSA released a statement last week saying the organization largely funds adult stem cell research, but does pay for one study involving embryonic stem cells using money from one donor. Donors may specify their money not pay for embryonic stem cell research.


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