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Partnership of Hope
It began with a phone call three decades ago.
Early one morning in the early summer of 1988, Edward Carlson, PhD, picked up his phone; David Bowen, an administrative officer for Academic Affairs at the University of North Dakota, was calling.
“If you haven’t met this gentleman, you’ve missed something,” said Carlson. “Bowen wanted to speak with me because he was representing the Lions of North Dakota, and he would like to discuss the Lions getting involved with diabetes research.”
As an anatomy researcher, Carlson was most interested and most heavily invested in diabetes research.
“So I quickly invited David to come and visit me at his earliest convenience,” Carlson said. “About a half hour later, there was a knock on my door—it was David.” Bowen, second vice president of the Grand Forks Lions, said that the Lions would like to donate $20,000 for each of the first three years toward Carlson’s diabetes research, particularly diabetic eye disease research.
Lions Clubs contribute to their communities through five service areas; one of which—their vision program—is well known for recycling eyeglasses, but it is extensively involved in improving eye health
and eye care for millions around the world.
Thus the meeting between Carlson and Bowen led to the unique Partnership of Hope between the School and the North Dakota Lions in the late summer of 1988. This wasn’t the first time that a not-for-profit group has supported research at the School; however, it was a first for the School to enter a long-term agreement with a not-for-profit volunteer organization.
The firstfruits of the Partnership of Hope were the North Dakota Lions Diabetes Ocular Research Center at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences with Professor and Chair of Anatomy and Cell Biology Ed Carlson as the codirector along with Professor of Biochemistry Harvey Knull. The Center was dedicated to “investigating the chronic complications of diabetes with particular emphasis on eye and kidney diseases, which frequently lead to blindness or renal failure.”
Fortunately, for the School, the Lions—and most importantly the field of diabetes research—Carlson chose to switch his college major from music to biology and chemistry. Playing the trumpet was
originally where Carlson thought he would make his mark in the world. However, a music theory class he took convinced him that science was the field where he belonged.
Carlson was born and raised in Iron Mountain, Michigan, about 100 miles north of the home of his beloved Green Bay Packers. You can cross one of its streets and step into its sister city: Kingsford, the home of Kingsford Charcoal Briquets. Carlson graduated from Kingsford High School, where one of his
pursuits was ski jumping, which is still a popular area sport. Nearby Pine Mountain plays host today to a world-class ski-jumping competition.
After high school, Carlson graduated from Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He came to UND, where Carlson’s interest in and technical expertise with anatomical imaging were cultivated by Professor Dr. Frank N. Low. Carlson received his PhD from UND in 1970. He lauded Low for his
inspiration and mentoring in a publication for the American Association of Anatomists: “Frank N. Low: Gentle Giant of Electron Microscopy (1911–1998),” which can be found at https://goo.gl/4JvD77.
Carlson was professor and chair of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology from 1981 to 2010. UND bestowed on him its highest faculty honor when Carlson was named a Chester Fritz Distinguished
Professor in 2006. He was named the Karl and Carolyn Kaess Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology in 2007.
Carlson and his research team have published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers. And since the opening of the North Dakota Lions Diabetes Ocular Research Center, they are perhaps most widely recognized for their significant contributions to the literature on diabetes research, including more than three dozen full-length manuscripts.
Through the Center and at the SMHS, Carlson has mentored numerous graduate students, many of whom went on to careers at the School. He is revered and honored—in the mold of his mentor Frank
N. Low—as a seminal researcher, teacher, and mentor by medical and graduate students as well as by colleagues and staff at the School.
Carlson, in his self-deprecating way, refers to the Center with the acronym of DORC (yes, it’s pronounced “dork”). However, make no mistake; the work produced by the Center is anything but
dorky. The Center’s research has received national and international recognition for its excellence.
In 2001, Carlson earned the Melvin Jones Fellowship Award from the North Dakota Lions. Named after the founder of the Lions, the honor is the highest award a Lions club can give to someone and is a
nationwide recognition of the recipient’s “humanitarian ideas consistent with the nature and purpose of Lionism.”
A view to the end of an era—“Sight Night”
On the evening of April 5, 2017, the three Grand Forks Lions Clubs gathered at a special combined meeting—“Sight Night”—at the invitation of Ed Carlson. The meeting was emceed by Grand Forks
Lions Club Treasurer Steve Johnson. Carlson requested the meeting to thank the North Dakota Lions for their consistent and committed donations to his research for three decades. Also in attendance were Dean Joshua Wynne and many of Carlson’s colleagues from the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the School. David Bowen was ill and could not attend the meeting, but he sent his regards.
Carlson’s “flagship manuscript and probably his most important research paper,” which he coauthored with colleagues from the School and from the University of Louisville, Kentucky, was published in the
March 2017 issue of the Anatomical Record, a journal of the American Association of Anatomists: “Renoprotection From Diabetic Complications in OVE Transgenic Mice by Endothelial Cell
Specific Overexpression of Metallothionein: A TEM Stereological Analysis.”
The paper discusses his research team’s work in genetically producing a new mouse through genetic engineering that can generate its own antioxidants—molecules that protect cells from the effects of free radicals: very small but highly charged tissue-damaging molecules that are overproduced as a result of the body’s exposure to stress, including high blood sugar in diabetics, smoking, alcohol,
drugs, sunlight, and pollutants.
Because mice are genetically and physiologically similar to humans (mice and humans share 95 percent of their genes), scientists find mice to be incredibly valuable experimental tools for research
into the genetic basis of diseases. Carlson and his team found that when they bred their new mouse with an existing severely diabetic mouse, many expected chronic complications of diabetes in their progeny are mitigated or eliminated. To Carlson’s knowledge, this is the first experimental
design to consistently mitigate or completely eliminate a number of chronic complications in severely diabetic animals.
“That’s remarkable,” Carlson said. “That’s why we call this publication our flagship paper. We have been given permission by the editor of the Anatomical Record to dedicate the entire paper to the
Lions of North Dakota.”
The special guest for the evening was Kurt H. Albertine, PhD, the editor of the Record, who spoke about the significance of Dr. Carlson’s research and his contribution to the advancement of science
and medical education. Albertine presented a copy of a Tribute to the Lions Club of North Dakota for Vision and Support of the Lions Diabetes Ocular Research Center to Carlson and Barb Nordstog, president of the Grand Forks Lions Club. The Tribute was a compilation of the research papers published in the Record over the years by Carlson and colleagues that were supported by the
North Dakota Lions. Carlson served as associate editor of the Record from 1987 to 1998.
The meeting also marked the eventual closing of the Diabetes Ocular Research Center. Carlson addressed Dean Wynne in his remarks announcing the closing out of respect and gratitude for the years of support Carlson and the Center received from the School and Dean Wynne that began years ago with then-Dean Edwin James. Less than two weeks after the meeting, David Bowen passed away on April 15. In his memory, Bowen’s family designated that donations be made to the North Dakota Lions Diabetes Ocular Research Center.
Pictured above, left to right: Kurt Albertine, Pam Carlson, Ed Carlson, and Barb Nordstog at “Sight Night.”