Schulze Diabetes Institute

Our people

Developing a cure takes the synergy of brilliant and creative minds, state-of-the-art facilities and robust funding to ensure our scientists can do their work.

The Schulze Diabetes Institute brings it all together, thanks in large part to the world-class talents of our distinguished faculty.

Our scientists are international leaders in diabetes research and islet transplantation. And while they work in laboratories and medical facilities, their work remains sharply focused on what it can do for the patient.

Because of our faculty, we are able attract more of the best and brightest to our team, and the funding needed to propel our efforts forward.

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Bernhard Hering, M.D.

Dr Hering is Professor of Surgery and Medicine and Scientific Director of the Schulze Diabetes Institute at the University of Minnesota, USA where he also holds the Eunice L. Dwan Chair in Diabetes Research and the McKnight Presidential Chair in Transplantation Science.

He is an internationally renowned expert in islet cell transplantation, with his research focusing on innovating and implementing cell-based therapeutics into specialty care biologics for type 1 diabetes. The human islet transplant protocol that he and his team have refined has markedly improved short-term and long-term clinical outcomes in patients with type 1 diabetes; the key protocol elements have been adopted for the Phase III licensure trial of human islets by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored multi-center Clinical Islet Transplant Consortium.

Dr. Hering is also widely recognized as a leader in investigating the use of alternative sources of islet cells through xenotransplantation. His research group was the first to demonstrate long-term diabetes reversal after adult pig islet xenotransplants in nonhuman primates, an accomplishment that has reinvigorated the field of xenotransplantation. Dr. Hering co-founded Spring Point Project, an organization established to generate designated pathogen-free, ‘medical-grade’ source pigs for planned clinical translation of islet xenotransplantation. To minimize the need for recipient immunosuppression, Dr. Hering is partnering with leaders in immunology to integrate preemptive treatment with donor antigen and surface engineering of donor islets into a safe, successful, and clinically applicable rejection prophylaxis strategy.

A sought-after speaker at national and international conferences, he has given more than 225 invited lectures including key note lectures at national and international meetings. Dr. Hering has also been invited to advise the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institute of Health on issues related to xenotransplantation and cellular therapies for diabetes. He has sat on the editorial boards of several professional journals and is the author or co-author of 25 book chapters and of over 200 articles, including articles in Nature, Nature Medicine, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, New England Journal of Medicine, and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Hering has served on steering committees of major clinical research programs in transplantation, type 1 diabetes, and immune tolerance. He has been a long-term member of the steering committee of the NIH Immune Tolerance Network; he currently serves on the steering committees of the NIH Clinical Islet Transplant Consortium, NIH Nonhuman Primate Transplantation Collaborative Study Group, and NIH Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet. Dr Hering is also the Medical Director of the NIH Collaborative Islet Transplant Registry (CITR). He was President of the Cell Transplant Society and currently serves as President of the International Xenotransplantation Association (IXA) and as President-Elect of the International Pancreas and Islet Transplant Association (IPITA).

In recognition for his outstanding contributions to islet transplantation, Dr. Hering was named in 2012 by U.S. News & World Report and Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. one of America’s Top Doctors, a distinction reserved for the top 1% of physicians across the U.S. for their specialty.

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David Sutherland, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Sutherland is the Founding Director of the Schulze Diabetes Institute and Professor Emeritus of Surgery at the University of Minnesota, responsible for training a large number of surgeons performing whole-organ pancreas transplants worldwide. 

As a young U of M resident in 1966, he witnessed the first kidney-pancreas transplant -- and has dedicated his career to offer a better quality of life for people with diabetes ever since.

Dr. Sutherland is a surgeon, researcher, pioneer, administrator, leader, mentor, professor and respected colleague to thousands worldwide.

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Meri Firpo, Ph.D.

Dr. Firpo is Assistant Professor in the Stem Cell Institute, and in the Department of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology. Dr. Firpo came to the University of Minnesota in 2005, where she oversees the development of stem cell-based therapies for diabetes.  

While on the faculty of the University of California San Francisco, Dr. Firpo directed the derivation of two of the human ES cell lines included in the NIH Registry of Human Embryonic Stem Cells. She also derived new lines suitable for transplantation therapies.

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Melena Bellin, M.D.

Dr. Bellin’s research focus is islet transplantation for patients with type 1 diabetes and for patients who have their pancreas removed to treat severe chronic pancreatitis. 

She completed her pediatric residency and pediatric endocrine fellowship training at the University of Minnesota, and joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor in 2009, with a joint appointment in Pediatrics and Surgery.

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Balamurugan (Bala) N. Appakalai, Ph.D.

Balamurugan (Bala) Appakalai is an “Isletologist” and the Director of the Islet Core at the Schulze Diabetes Institute. He holds an appointment as Associate Professor at the Department of Surgery. He has extensive experience in human islet isolation biology and transplantation sciences.

Bala was introduced to scientific research during his Master’s degree research project testing the blood glucose lowering effect of traditional plant extracts in diabetic animals. This led him to the selection of his Ph.D. topic in the field of diabetes, focusing on isolated monkey islets for insulin secretory dynamics and islet cell xenotransplantation. His involvement with transplanting islets began in 1993 with the establishment of a simple method of monkey islet isolation

He then completed his fellowship (1999-2000) in islet biology at the Kyoto University in Japan. He focused on bio-artificial pancreas transplantation at angiogenesis induced artificial sites. He also worked with “diabetic-islets” for pharmacological drug studies as well as normal islet physiology.


In 2001, he joined at the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute of University of Pittsburgh, PA. He acquired extensive experience in transplantation immunology, islet biology, human islet isolation and porcine islet xenotransplantation.

In 2006, he joined as the Director of Clinical Islet cGMP facility at the Barbara Davis Diabetes Center in Denver and involved in human clinical islet transplantation before joining the University of Minnesota Diabetes team in 2007.

Bala's main role as director in the pancreatic islet core facility is to coordinate the efforts of his lab personnel to ensure the best possible outcome of the islet cells used in transplantations and research. He also participates in islets isolations for clinical allo- and auto-transplantation. His core isolates islets from pigs and non-human primates for xeno- and allo- transplantation studies. Rodent islets are isolated whenever necessary for different diabetes research projects.

Bala has widely published research articles in internationally recognized journals including reviews and book chapters. He has also won several awards for best paper presentations in conferences. Overall, Bala has more than 19 years of experience in research towards the treatment of diabetes. More specifically, he has expertise in islet cell transplantation using islets isolated from humans, monkeys, pigs, and other laboratory animals.


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The Islet Core Team

Past & Present Team Members


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  • Last modified on May 8, 2014