The Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the University of Minnesota Medical School is committed to bringing leading-edge basic and applied research and innovation to patient care.

The research-intensive faculty within the department have several major focus areas including cancer, immunology, cardiovascular disease, renal disease, diabetes, and genetics. The faculty consist of tenured associate and full professors, several of which currently hold endowed chairs or professorships. They interface with University of Minnesota departments and centers such as the Center for Immunology, Masonic Cancer Center, and the Institute for Translational Neuroscience.

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Tsai wins LVDD Cooper Award

Michael TsaiMike Tsai has been awarded the American Association for Clinical Chemistry’s Lipoproteins and Vascular Diseases Division LVDD Cooper Award, a lifetime achievement award that recognizes individuals for outstanding service contributions in the area of lipoproteins and vascular diseases. 

Tsai will receive the award at the AACC annual meeting in Chicago July 30.

In 2007, Tsai won the AACC’s LVDD Zak Award given for outstanding contributions to scientific research in the area of lipoproteins and vascular diseases.

A faculty investigator in LMP's Advanced Research and Diagnostics Laboratory, Tsai was among the first to recognize the importance of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) particle heterogeneities, the inverse association of serum triglyceride with particle sizes of lipoproteins, and the implication of these phenomena in assessing cardiovascular disease risk. 

Mike Tsai’s faculty research profile


Regents approve fellowship program

At its May meeting, the University Board of Regents approved Medical School's application for a new Laboratory Genetics and Genomics Fellowship program in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology. 
The program merges two previously existing programs,  Clinical Molecular Genetics and Cytogenetics Pathology, combining key educational objectives and eliminating overlap.  The Regents agreed that patient care is best served by professionals with training that encompasses each of these domains.
The Laboratory Genetics and Genomics Fellowship program, which has been approved by the American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ABMCC) Accreditation Committee, aims to give students a unique and innovative educational experience.  Students currently enrolled in the existing programs will be supported as they complete their training. 

Research Spotlight

Pennell/Blazar study achieves milestone

New immunotherapies — therapies that enlist and strengthen the power of a patient’s immune system to attack tumors — are revolutionizing the treatment of cancer. One of the leading opportunities is chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy.  T cells are removed from the patient and genetically engineered to produce special receptors that allow them to recognize and attach to a specific protein, or antigen, on tumor cells.  Last year, the FDA approved two CAR T-cell therapies, one for the treatment of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and the other for adults with advanced lymphomas.  

Christopher PennellBut CAR T therapy is not without risks.   Some patients experience life-threatening complications.  LMP immunologist Chris Pennell together with Regent’s professor of pediatric blood and marrow transplantation Bruce Blazar and the immunotherapy group at the Masonic Cancer Center have developed a mouse model that replicates the anti-tumor efficacy and toxicities experienced by patients treated with CD19 antigen-specific CAR T-cells.  Pennell is lead author of  “Human CD19-Targeted Mouse T Cells Induce B Cell Aplasia and Toxicity in Human CD19 Transgenic Mice” published in Molecular Therapy.  In a commentary accompanying the article, CAR T-cell therapy pioneer Carl June and his University of Pennsylvania colleague Marco Ruella called the report “a milestone in the development of preclinical models able to predict human CAR T toxicity and efficacy.”

CAR T-cell therapy has had the best success so far in treating patients with B cell malignancies, Pennell said.  “One reason is that the B cells express a relatively unique antigen, CD19, that can be targeted by CAR T-cells. This permits tumor killing via ‘on-target on-tumor’ recognition by CAR T-cells.  Unfortunately, the major limitations of the approach are ‘on-target off-tumor’ toxicities due to CD19 expression on healthy B cells.”

The toxicities include sometimes fatal systemic inflammation and central nervous system toxicities, the underlying causes of which are not well understood, Pennell said.  “Because the mice we use express human CD19 on both healthy and malignant B cells, we can study ways to eliminate tumors while simultaneously limiting toxicities,” he said. “We can use the power of mouse genetics to understand the mechanisms that underlie these toxicities using clinically-relevant CAR constructs.”  The long-term goal of Pennell and his colleagues is to develop strategies that maintain CAR T efficacy but minimize toxicity.

By developing predictive tools that can identify strategies with minimal toxicities, Pennell, Blazar and their fellow investigators are helping to secure CAR T-cell immunotherapy’s designation as the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s “2018 advance of the year.”