UND medical school to create endowed chair, after multi-million-dollar donation

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Oct. 25—A former UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences professor has donated money to create an endowed chair at the school, which will work to bring medical discoveries to practical use more rapidly.

Gopal Das, who worked at the SMHS in the 1990's, gave a "multi-million-dollar gift" to the school, according to a news release from the school. Das, UND Alumni Association & Foundation staff and SMHS administrators have been working together to establish the new position. Joshua Wynne, UND vice president for health affairs and dean of the SMHS, said he expects to fill the position, called the Wadhwani Family Endowed Chair of Translational Research, by July next year.

The establishment of the endowed chair, essentially a position where the salary is bolstered by the endowment, will enable the SMHS to recruit a nationally recognized leader interested in reducing the time often required to "translate" novel discoveries in the laboratory, to the direct care of patients. According to the release, new discoveries come in the form of new medications and therapies. The SMHS has managed a doctoral program in clinical and translational science since 2016.

"The Wadhwani Family Endowed Chair will be a powerful tool to aid us in recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest faculty to UND," Wynne saiid. "Securing and retaining the best faculty translates into the best science and discovery, and the best teaching of our students."

The UND foundation is not able to disclose the exact amount of the gift, by Das' request. Das will make annual contributions to support the new position, and the balance of it will be donated after his death.

According to Milo Smith, director of public relations at the foundation, Das was born in India to a family of very modest means. At one point, Smith said, the family had only one lamp, which had to be moved around depending on who wanted to read, or if cooking needed to be done. Das was the oldest brother in the family, and it fell to him to become educated and secure his way.

The family saved and sent Das to the United States, where he arrived with $6.75 in his pocket. Das worked various jobs to save for his education, and he eventually brought his family to the U.S. and helped fund his siblings' educations.

DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the foundation, said she appreciates Das' donation to create the new position.

"Faculty endowments are a powerful tool for recruiting and retaining top-notch faculty, which enhances the educational experience for UND students," she said. "Thank you Dr. Das. Your gift will impact students well into the future, and they will benefit from hearing the story of how you became a successful physician and educator despite very humble beginnings."

Wynne said he met Das for the first time on a trip to Las Vegas, where Das lives, to discuss the creation of the endowed chair. Das, now retired, worked as the chief of cardiology at the University of Nevada- Las Vegas.

Wynne said he shared three "geographic intersections" with Das, before they met. Wynne has conducted research and provided patient care in India and the two later spent time at Wayne State University in Michigan, though at different times. The same goes at UND, Das worked at the SMHS before Wynne arrived on campus in 2004.

According to the release, in fiscal year 2021 the SMHS took in more than $38 million in grants and other awards for biomedical research, mostly from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over the past decade, the school has been awarded nearly $300 million in external funding for sponsored research projects dedicated to studying cancer, Alzheimer's disease, rural healthcare, and various infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

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