- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Gov. Mark Dayton pledged $30 million in new state funding for the University of Minnesota Medical School on Wednesday to help boost the school’s national standing and research capability, calling it a down payment on life-enhancing innovations.

Dayton, who wants the state to make a $230 million commitment over the next decade, will include the initial funding proposal in a two-year budget plan he gives lawmakers next week. The money would come from an anticipated $1 billion state surplus.

School leaders say the immediate infusion would help recruit and retain 50 medical researchers renowned in their fields, leverage more grants for studies of diabetes and other chronic diseases, and result in spinoff companies.

“Success breeds success. That’s true financially as well if we’re really good researchers,” said Dr. Brooks Jackson, the medical school dean. “This will result in more biotech companies being formed, more jobs being formed. It will allow us to attract the best and brightest students, the best faculty.”

Jackson said the money is instrumental in helping the school reach a goal of rising into the top 20 medical schools by measure of federal research funding. The school currently ranks 30th in the country, according to a report released this month by a commission Dayton appointed.

“We shouldn’t settle for 20th. We should aim for being top five, top 10,” Dayton said while surrounded by more than a dozen lab-coated medical students.

The billion-dollar state surplus projected by state finance officials is the result of climbing tax collections from the economic recovery. And the governor isn’t the only one sizing up the money for health advances.

Majority Senate Democrats are pressing for a loan-forgiveness program that would reward new physicians who practice in underserved rural areas. On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed competitive research grants to study Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The governor said he’s open to such ideas and was “very receptive” to the loan forgiveness program, which could alleviate doctor shortages as a bulge of physicians, dentists and other medical professionals reaches retirement.

Dayton, a former pre-med student, said Minnesota’s medical sector is a cornerstone of the state’s economy. Now that state finances have improved, he said it is imperative to invest in the long-term future of a “treasured asset” like the medical school.

Jackson said the university wants to form “medical discovery teams” to find breakthrough cures and treatments for ailments such as cancer, diabetes and cardiac disease, and research health disparities among different geographic and socioeconomics populations.

He said he doesn’t anticipate increasing the number of students at the medical school, which graduates about 230 doctors per year. The university also provides training and continuing education courses to thousands of doctors per year.

More than 70 percent of Minnesota physicians have earned a degree or taken classes on the Minneapolis and Duluth campuses.

Dayton said the medical school award in his budget wouldn’t be held against the university as it seeks extra state dollars to hold down undergraduate tuition. His full budget will be released Tuesday.

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