Morgridge Institute for Research announces scientific leadership team, research areas

The Morgridge Institute for Research, the private side of the new interdisciplinary Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has finalized its inaugural team of top scientists selected to bring to life the institute’s mission of accelerating discovery to delivery to improve human health.

“We will focus world-class talent on advancing discoveries in five research challenge areas that have tremendous potential for improving the health of millions of people around the world,” says Sangtae “Sang” Kim, executive director of the nonprofit interdisciplinary institute. “Our mission is to accelerate the ability to treat, cure or eradicate such devastating diseases as hepatitis C, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.”

“Our mission is to accelerate the ability to treat, cure or eradicate such devastating diseases as hepatitis C, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.”

The five areas selected for research are regenerative biology, which includes stem cell science; virology, the study of viruses; medical devices; pharmaceutical informatics, the use of information technology, statistics and mathematics to improve and speed drug development; and education research. In addition, Kim announced the nonprofit institute will launch programs to explore and promote core computational technology and scientific outreach.

Seven UW–Madison researchers, who will recruit and hire top talent from around the world, have been approved by the institute’s board of trustees to lead these research areas and programs at the new biomedical research organization:

  • James Thomson, the stem cell pioneer named the first member of the Morgridge scientific leadership team in 2008 and an anatomy professor at the UW–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, is directing the regenerative biology< focus area.
  • Paul Ahlquist Howard Hughes Medical Investigator and a UW–Madison professor of oncology at the School of Medicine and Public Health, molecular virology in the Graduate School and plant pathology in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, has been selected as the lead scientist of the virology focus area.
  • Thomas “Rock” Mackie, a UW–Madison professor of medical physics at the School of Medicine and Public Health and biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering, as well as the co-inventor, co-founder and chair of TomoTherapy Inc., will lead the medical devices focus area.
  • Sangtae “Sang” Kim, who has served as a professor of engineering at Purdue and engineering and computer science at UW–Madison, in executive positions at the National Science Foundation and within the pharmaceutical industry, and as an adviser to the Food and Drug Administration, will expand his executive director role to include principal investigator responsibility for the pharmaceutical informatics focus area.
  • Susan Millar, an anthropologist, senior scientist in the UW–Madison Wisconsin Center of Education Research, and a national leader in the evaluation of science education reform initiatives, will lead education research with a focus on improving health outcomes. Millar’s role will bridge both Morgridge and UW–Madison’s public Wisconsin Institute for Discovery as her research group will collaborate with scientists in both institutes to develop learning resources.
  • Miron Livny, a UW–Madison professor of computer sciences in the College of Letters & Science and director of the UW–Madison Center for High Throughput Computing, will lead core computational technology. Livny also will serve both Morgridge and the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery by providing the advanced computing tools and infrastructure necessary to facilitate the leading edge work of scientists in both institutes.
  • Nirupama “Rupa” Shevde, senior scientist and director of education and outreach at the WiCell Research Institute and a UW–Madison honorary associate/fellow in biochemistry at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, will expand her role to lead the development and operation of Morgridge Outreach Experiences, scientific learning programs directed at youth and the general public.

Kim noted that many members of his team have had a hand in the formation of the Morgridge Institute. Shortly after his appointment as executive director in September 2008, he began working with Thomson, and Ahlquist, Livny, Mackie and Millar as strategic consultants, to develop the mission, goals, operations and organizational structure of the new institute. All seven Morgridge scientific leaders will maintain their prior affiliations with UW–Madison and elsewhere.

“Each member of the Morgridge scientific leadership team is stellar in his or her field,” says Carl Gulbrandsen, chair of the Morgridge Institute for Research board of trustees and managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). “They understand the necessity of working across disciplines, out of their comfort zones and with increasingly powerful computational tools to achieve breakthrough discoveries. They are a winning team and poised to bring success to the Morgridge Institute.”

John Wiley, interim director of the public Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, says, “Several of the WID and Morgridge researchers already knew each other well and were familiar with each others’ work, and others are meeting for the first time. All are eager to get better acquainted and collaborate with their new colleagues at the institutes, as well as to create new and closer working relationships with a wide range of researchers and faculty on campus.”

While the innovative new facility for the twin Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery will not open until December, research at the Morgridge Institute has been under way in the Thomson lab since his appointment was announced two years ago. Likewise, the research and programs of the other scientists also have begun. All have had input into the design of their research “pods,” located in “research neighborhoods” on the second, third and fourth floors and lower level of the facility.

“I am delighted to see the Morgridge Institute off to such an exciting start,” says UW–Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin. “Dr. Kim has assembled a remarkable team. With the scientific talent, research themes and challenge areas established for both sides of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, we have new resources to ensure UW–Madison maintains its position as a top public research university, and Madison as a growing center for biotechnology.”

In addition to its top scientific team, the Morgridge Institute now employs approximately 30 other individuals, including research staff and development professionals who manage fundraising and donor relationships for the nonprofit institute. During the next year, the Morgridge Institute plans to hire approximately 100 additional employees.