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Updated 11:00 AM May 8, 2006
 

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  U-M Health System
Gifts totaling $4.5M will support Scleroderma Program

Scleroderma is a complex, little-understood condition that can be debilitating and often deadly as it attacks the skin, heart and lungs. Two gifts to the U-M Health System (UMHS) Scleroderma Program aim to lead to new discoveries that will help people who suffer from the disease, which affects 150,000 U.S. patients and perhaps 1.5 million worldwide, and is the deadliest of all rheumatologic diseases.

Alumni Jonathan and Lisa Rye of Bloomfield Hills have given $2.5 million to the Scleroderma Program in recognition of their son Calvin's improvement while being treated by Dr. James Seibold, director of the program.

Marvin and Betty Danto, of Bloomfield Hills and Longboat Key, Fla., have given $2 million to establish the Marvin and Betty Danto Research Professorship in Connective Tissue Research in recognition of Marvin's treatment for scleroderma at U-M.

Both gifts, part of the $2.5 billion The Michigan Difference campaign, are helping to advance the Scleroderma Program's pioneering efforts by funding research, helping to recruit top faculty, and helping to develop a new Web site (www.med.umich.edu/scleroderma) to provide patients, researchers and the public with information about the condition.

"Michigan's extensive clinical and scientific assets—including its expertise in vascular biology and pulmonary medicine—make it the ideal environment for cutting-edge multidisciplinary research aimed at reducing suffering, preventing death and ultimately finding a cure for scleroderma," says Seibold, professor in the Division of Rheumatology in the Medical School Department of Internal Medicine, which houses the Scleroderma Program.

"These generous gifts from the Rye and Danto families will help us work toward the discovery of effective therapies for scleroderma and related conditions. We all feel that focused research into the basic mechanisms of disease as well as continued efforts in developing promising treatments will lead to the answer."

The Rye family began its difficult journey when Calvin developed what looked like a faded bruise on his left leg. Soon after his joints began aching and his flexibility declined, causing him to give up the high school sports he loved.

The Ryes searched tirelessly on the Internet for clues about what was happening to their son. After Calvin was diagnosed with a condition related to scleroderma, they continued to look for answers, a search that ultimately led them to Seibold.

He concluded that Calvin did not have the illness a previous doctor diagnosed, but rather another rare condition in the scleroderma family called generalized subcutaneous morphea.

"As we watched our son's extremities harden, his fingers curve and his hands lose all strength, we lived a nightmare, and we could only imagine how painful it was for Calvin," Lisa Rye says.

"Through our efforts, Lisa and I seek to highlight and accelerate the progress of his work by utilizing the power of interdisciplinary research at U-M to find more effective treatments—and hopefully, one day, a cure—for scleroderma," says Jonathan Rye, chairman of the Bloomfield Hills-based Greenfield Commercial Credit.

Today Calvin continues treatments at U-M and his condition has improved dramatically. He recently completed his second year as a U-M undergraduate.

A serious cardiac problem led Marvin Danto to UMHS and to cardiologist Dr. Kim Eagle, the Walter Hewlett Professor of Internal Medicine. When Danto asked Eagle about the extreme sensitivity to cold he had experienced for many years, Eagle referred him to Seibold, who agreed with the cardiologist's diagnosis of Raynaud's Phenomenon, a disorder that affects the blood vessels in the fingers, toes, ears and nose. Seibold also recognized it as an early symptom of scleroderma.

Seibold says: "I'm hopeful that the Dantos' gift will accelerate breakthroughs in understanding the disease processes active in scleroderma."

In addition to their $2 million gift to the Scleroderma Program, the Dantos also recently gave a $2 million gift to the Cardiovascular Center. In recognition of that gift, the center will name the 100-seat auditorium of its new clinical building for them.

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