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Diabetes Research Institute Foundation Receives $3M Gift from NABTU to Fund Cell Therapy for COVID-19

MIAMI, FL — The Diabetes Research Institute Foundation (DRIF) announces a donation of $3 million from North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), to support specific and urgent research on the use of umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells to treat COVID-19-related inflammation. The gift will accelerate needed clinical trials.

On April 5, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved mesenchymal stem cell treatments for seriously ill COVID-19 patients as an “expanded access compassionate use.” Subsequently, Camillo Ricordi, Ph.D., Director of the Diabetes Research Institute and Cell Transplant Program, opened the first-of-its-kind clinical trial on the use of umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells (UC-MSC) to treat COVID-19-related inflammation. The study will assess the safety and efficacy — including clinical outcomes and a variety of pulmonary, biochemical, and immunological tests — of the intravenous administration of UC-MSCs in patients with severe cases of COVID-19.

“NABTU and its members are proud to stand behind the work of Dr. Ricordi, the Diabetes Research Institute team, and their partners around the world as they work to find a cure for diabetes and protect the lives of people affected by COVID-19,” said NABTU President Sean McGarvey. “As COVID-19 cases show severe implications for high-risk individuals and essential workers, Dr. Ricordi’s DRI research is essential to treating patients who are facing this life-threatening virus. Our work doesn’t stop with this $3 million commitment; NABTU and our members have already begun organizing friends and supporters to raise the $30 million Dr. Ricordi says is required to effectively treat the millions of people who need it and will receive it at no cost to them or their families.”

“For 35 years, North America’s Building Trades Unions’ membership has supported the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, and that long-standing commitment has had a significant impact on our quest for a cure for diabetes,” said DRIF CEO Sean Kramer. “The continued generosity of NABTU’s members over the years has helped fund and develop many clinical trials, including the DRI’s prior research on UC-MSCs in patients with type 1 diabetes, but today’s gift will truly help all Americans in the midst of this pandemic.”

“As it has been for decades, whenever we need them, the building trades stand in the breach for their countries and communities,” Ricordi said. “This generous donation is another example of how this amazing organization leads by example and how leadership and action can make a difference on the path of cures.”

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The relationship between DRIF and NABTU began with the Blueprint for Cure in 1984, an unprecedented campaign that supported funding of a center where scientists would have every tool necessary to conduct research to find a cure for diabetes, a disease afflicting many union members and citizens in North America. Through this initiative, the members of the unions funded and built the Diabetes Research Institute facility in Miami, the most comprehensive diabetes research center in the world. Today, NABTU and its members have donated nearly $60 million to support DRIF’s efforts to find a cure for diabetes.

“The DRIF is grateful for NABTU’s dedication to our mission and cause, and we are especially appreciative of today’s gift,” Kramer said. “Simultaneously, a therapy for COVID-19 and a cure for type 1 diabetes are within reach.”

North America’s Building Trades Unions is an alliance of 14 national and international unions in the building and construction industry that collectively represent over 3 million skilled craft professionals in the United States and Canada. Each year, unions and signatory contractor partners invest over $1.6 billion in private-sector money to fund and operate over 1,900 apprenticeship training and education facilities across North America that produce highly trained skilled craft workers found anywhere in the world.

NABTU is dedicated to creating economic security and employment opportunities for its construction workers by safeguarding wage and benefits standards, promoting responsible private capital investments, investing in renowned apprenticeship and training, and creating pathways to the middle class for women, communities of color, and military veterans in the construction industry.

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