UI to dedicate new diabetes research center

Notable Fraternal Order of Eagles members to attend, like Tony Orlando

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August 23, 2014 | 2:00 am

IOWA CITY — Dignitaries from University of Iowa President Sally Mason to Tony Orlando — a 1970s entertainer best known for songs like “Knock Three Times” — will be on hand Saturday morning to dedicate the university’s new state-of-the-art diabetes research center.

The new Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center includes 20,000 square feet of “advanced research space with cutting-edge medical equipment.” It was enabled through a $25 million gift from the Fraternal Order of Eagles and will allow researchers to pursue innovative treatments and cures for diabetes, which affects more than 9 percent of Americans.

The new center, located on the third and fourth floors of the new Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building on the UI health science campus, will house 16 to 17 diabetes research groups, said E. Dale Abel, director of the center. The UI’s whole diabetes research center is bigger than that — with about 100 members — but Abel said the new center is not large enough to house all the UI diabetes researchers.

“There is a long history of diabetes research at the UI,” he said. “But the (Eagles) gift created a formal center and mechanism to pull people together and make us all work toward a common goal.”

The Fraternal Order of Eagles, a national community service organization, raised the $25 million for the center through smaller donations from thousands of members across the country. Former UI physician and researcher John Stokes, who was a member of the local Fraternal Order of Eagles chapter, was behind the massive gift after suggesting years ago that the group focus its philanthropy, Abel said.

The group chose diabetes, which affects about one in three Eagles members, and UI officials found a place for the center in its new biomedical discovery building, which was built with state, federal, university and private dollars.

Saturday morning’s dedication of the center is being attended by notable Eagle members like Tony Orlando, of the 1970s group “Tony Orlando and Dawn,” and comedian Tom Parks, who has been in movies with Rodney Dangerfield and on TV shows like “Wings” in 1995.

“The Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center is one of the most visionary projects I’ve ever encountered,” UI President Sally Mason said in a statement.

Abel said the new center and the massive donation that made it possible have enabled the university to fund innovative diabetes-related projects, including work on new technologies to help manage the disease. And, he said, the center has helped the university recruit top researchers to town.

“What this gift has done is catalyzed and given additional momentum to turn something very good into something exceptional,” Abel said.

The Eagles gift represents one of the largest commitments to diabetes research institutionally in the nation, and Abel said it could place Iowa in the top 5 percent among diabetes research institutions in the coming years.

The eventual goal, he said, is to find treatments and a cure for the increasingly common disorder.

“That ultimately is the hope,” Abel said. “There are so many people with diabetes now.”

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