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Collaboration aims to strengthen medical results

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From left, Hormel Institute Executive Director Dr. Zigang Dong, Hormel Foundation Chairman Richard Knowlton, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler and Mayo Clinic's Dr. Glenn Forbes pose for a photograph following a press conference at the Hormel Institute in Austin.

News that leaders from the Hormel Foundation, the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic had finalized a collaborative agreement Tuesday might have some people wondering what it means.

The goal is to create one of the world's best medical research institutions — the Hormel Institute —  but what will change? Aren't the three institutions already partners? The short answer is yes.

The difference will come from the top down, said Eric Kaler, new president of the university. He was in Austin on Tuesday to sign the agreement.

"What we've done is created a new board structure," he said. "That will allow us to be better connected to the three institutions. They'll provide instruction in a more thoughtful, more insightful way." The result Kaler said, will be a "more engaged, more efficient" process and quicker results.

"We value our relationships with Hormel and with Mayo Clinic," he said. The agreement is "one more link in the chain."

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The chain will feature research by the Hormel Institute's cancer prevention experts and the ability to translate that research into clinical trials by the university. The final step, Kaler said, is delivery of care by Mayo Clinic.

Dr. Zigang Dong, executive director of the Institute, said Tuesday he is "very happy. I know my duty and will do my best. I tell people I'm a really lucky guy. This is a day to celebrate, as the partnership means the process from discovery to medical care is accelerated."

With the agreement comes the second stage of expansion of the Austin facility, which tripled in size in 2008. That move promised to add 100 faculty and staff; Dong said a comparable number is expected with the second expansion.

The Institute's focus remains solid.

"We cannot completely cure cancer," Dong said, "so we concentrate on prevention."

Dr. Tim Mulcahey, vice president of research for the University of Minnesota, said the collaboration is key.

"We all as institutions have to be true to our mission and true to our business," he said. "But one thing I've learned is that's not good enough. We also have to be concerned and be committed to our community, to our region, to Minnesota and to the world.

"If we can carry that commitment home and be as true to that as Hormel has been, then I think the limits are boundless," Mulcahey said.

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