Description of Di-one institute

What is it?

The Di-one institute is an intercontinental collaborative effort between the University of Vermont (UVM) and Maastricht University Medical Center (MUMC+).  The aim of the Di-one Institute is to foster bilateral joint PhD studentships, knowledge exchange, and collaborative research efforts.  

Locations

Maastricht University Medical Center (MUMC+) is located in The Netherlands within the city of Maastricht. It is the academic medical center for southern Limburg and as such is a fusion of education, research and patient care.  MUMC+ works in close collaboration with the University of Maastricht.

University of Vermont (UVM) is located in the United States in the state of Vermont along the shores of Lake Champlain. UVM encompasses undergraduate and graduate eudcation as well as research.  There is an intensive collaboration between UVM and its affiliated academic hospital Fletcher Allen Healthcare (FAHC).  

Programs

The Di-one Institute is, in principle, a framework for collaboration across all departments and programs in both institutions.  The initial focus is, however, on respiratory disease.  

MUMC+ Department of Respiratory disease is headed by  Prof. Emiel Wouters.  The emphasis is on chronic illness, largely chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  Research is conducted along two lines: a line focused on the clinical and mechanistic research on processes in the lungs, and a second line focused on systemic consequences of disease namely muscle wasting.  The department sits in the larger framework of NUTRIM within the University of Maastricht. 

At UVM there are two closely collaborating programs that are the center of the Di-one institute collaborative effort, the Environmental Pathology Research Program and the Vermont Lung Center.  

Prof. Yvonne Janssen-Heininger in the Environmental Pathology Research Program along with Prof. Wouters initiated the collaboration which has now been transformed into the Di-one institute.  The primary aim of the Environment pathology program is to delineate the specific molecular and pathological effects of physiologically relevant doses of environmental agents on specific target cells in the lung and other organs.

The Vermont Lung Center (VLC), a Program on Lung Biology and Disease, has been in existence at the UVM College of Medicine since 1972.  The keystone to the VLC program is translational research.  The goals of the VLC are to investigate the mechanisms of lung biology and disease, and to train and retain outstanding translational scientists at UVM.

History

The history of collaboration between these two institutions is longstanding. This in recent years has taken the form of PhD student exchanges between Prof. Janssen-Heininger (UVM) and Prof. Wouters (MUMC+). The first two of these PhD students conducted the research for their theses principally in laboratory of Prof. Janssen-Heininger, under the supervision of both Prof. Janssen-Heininger and Prof. Wouters. They were highly successful with both obtaining a Veni grant, which is a prestigious grant awarded to promising scientists in The Netherlands.  A number of publications in high impact journals resulted from their work, including articles in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Journal of  Immunology,  and FASEB Journal.

Because of the success of these two graduate students, plans were made to broaden and strengthen the collaboration between the two institutions. In December of 2007 a formal collaboration agreement was signed by Guy Peeters, MUMC+ CEO, and Daniel Fogel, President of UVM. 

The plan is to take the collaboration forward in series of phases: I organizational setup, II gaining familiarity, and III collaborative research and educational efforts.  As of the Spring of 2009 the organization phase is well underway, and in fact aspects of both phase II and phase III have begun. Emphasis is being placed on aspects that will synergistically enhance both institutions while providing PhD and other students a unique and rich learning experience. 

The Di-one institute has received financial support from the Weijerhorsct Foundation to conduct research on respiratory diseases that affect mine workers disproportionately: silicosis, asthma, and COPD. 

In the region surrounding both Burlington, the city within which UVM is located, and Maastricht there is a long history of mining.  In Vermont the mining was, and still is granite quarrying while in the region surrounding Maastricht there was mostly coal mining, which no longer takes place. Hence, both institutions have a history of researching and caring for mine workers with lung disease.

The name Di-one  

Dione is a moon of Saturn that is comprised largely of silica.  Therefore, it is symbolic of the focus on respiratory disease in  mine workers.  “Di” is also a Greek prefix for numerical words meaning “two”.  The name Di-one was therefore also chosen to symbolize the collaborative nature of the institute or “two – in – one”.