Some people are drawn to innovation. When those people are donors to scientific research, they can advance significant medical breakthroughs that might otherwise take many more years to achieve.

John L. (Larry) and Eileen Tietze are such donors. Through the John H. Tietze Foundation Trust, they have made a series of awards to UW Medicine scientists for breakthrough and early-career research on the leading edge of translational medicine. These awards may ultimately lead to grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Working with early-career scientists has proved to be the most rewarding investment we have ever made,” Eileen Tietze says. “Our gifts help move science forward.”

While the Tietzes give grants in several research areas, including brain tumors and vision, many current recipients of their awards are conducting stem cell research. Eileen Tietze, who serves as a public member on the UW Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight (ESCRO) Committee, sees stem cell research as the next big frontier in medicine.

“The idea is to get scientists with great ideas to the next step, where they can go to the NIH for funding,” she says. Perkins Coie is another significant donor to early-stage research at UW Medicine; the prestigious law firm supports scientists working on promising therapies.

“Perkins Coie has a longstanding interest in the life sciences. We are proud that our Award for Discovery, now in its fifth year, provides support for cutting-edge research at UW Medicine’s South Lake Union campus,” says Jim Lisbakken, a partner in the firm’s Licensing and Technology Practice and co-chair of the firm’s Life Sciences Practice. “The need to fund early stage translational research is ongoing, and we congratulate and thank Larry and Eileen Tietze for supporting breakthrough research at UW Medicine through the Tietze Foundation.”

The contributions from Perkins Coie and the Tietzes are making a large difference. Michael T. Chin, M.D., Ph.D., FACC, FAHA, UW associate professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology and the Harold T. Dodge/John L. Locke Endowed Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine, is the first recipient of the Tietze Family Award for Research in Stem Cells.

“Gifts like the Tietze Award are invaluable. They allow us to fund innovative but high-risk projects that wouldn’t be funded by the NIH,” Chin says. The funds he received from the Tietzes support the development of a protein-based cell therapy to convert fibroblast stem cells into heart cells in order to repair injured hearts.

In contrast to embryonic stem cells, fibroblast cells are located throughout the body and are easy to obtain. Chin is testing four proteins with the potential to convert fibroblasts into cardiac cells at the site of injury. What would success mean? “It could revolutionize treatment for people who have had heart attacks and ischemic heart disease,” he says.

But even if this particular project doesn’t achieve the hoped-for results, the Tietzes will still be satisfied.

“We have never been disappointed,” Tietze says of their giving. “Science looks for answers, but they’re not always found. Our grants help the search.”

Michael T. Chin, M.D., Ph.D., FACC, FAHA, pictured here in his lab, studies ways in which non-embryonic stem cells might be used to repair the heart. Chin’s work is supported by Larry and Eileen Tietze; similar work at UW Medicine — innovative, early-stage research — is also supported by Perkins Coie.