Morgridge Institute announces John W. and Jeanne M. Rowe Center for Research in Virology

The Morgridge Institute for Research is launching the John W. and Jeanne M. Rowe Center for Research in Virology, a new transformative research initiative made possible by the philanthropic support of John and Jeanne Rowe.

The center builds upon the virology research at the Morgridge Institute led by Paul Ahlquist, the John W. and Jeanne M. Rowe Chair in Virology, and also comprises two additional Morgridge investigators and University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty, including Tony Gitter who specializes in computational biology.

The Rowe Center will work to understand the big-picture questions of how viruses function and interact with their hosts. One of the goals is to develop broad-spectrum antivirals, which are drugs or vaccines to target entire families of viruses. There are hundreds of viruses that threaten human health, but today these are almost exclusively combatted by targeting each individual strain, rather than by finding common weaknesses.

“The Rowes’ gift is inspiring our researchers at all levels, from students to senior scientists,” says Ahlquist, also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. “Their flexible support is a launching pad enabling us to do the critical work of moving into the new directions opened by our discoveries—work that is otherwise very hard to pursue but represents the essence of science. Science is about what we don’t know.”

John W. and Jeanne M. Rowe
John W. and Jeanne M. Rowe

With sustainable, flexible support from the Rowes, the center will grow a robust virology research program in partnership with scientists and students at UW-Madison.

The Ahlquist Lab seeks to understand and control positive-strand RNA viruses—a large group that includes the Zika, SARS, MERS and many more viruses—as well as HIV and cancer-causing papillomaviruses. The center’s work is similarly advanced by the Gitter Lab, which is developing approaches to unravel biological networks in areas such as viral replication and virus-induced cancers.

The Rowes have been deeply involved in the Morgridge Institute’s first ten years. John served on the Morgridge Board of Trustees and as chair of the WARF Board of Trustees, and together John and Jeanne broadly supported the humanities and education at the grade school, high school and university levels.

John says he and Jeanne have come to see biomedical research, and virology, as an area where their philanthropic support can change lives and help people.

“All of the work that the wonderful scientists are doing in Paul’s group could really save a huge part of humanity,” adds Jeanne. “Their work reaches out to so many people—and can help so many more.”

John, a graduate of the UW-Madison Department of History and the Law School, says their commitment to the Morgridge Institute comes from a belief in the possibility of science.

“Everybody likes to think there’s a big tension between science and faith—not so,” says John. “Morgridge is a place where you invest because you believe that really smart people may come up with solutions that are of a vast use to humankind. It’s a belief that people of this quality will yield real results. It’s investing in the long game.”

“The Rowes are people with a thoughtful, creative vision, whose generosity and commitment show how much impact a dedicated couple can have.”

Paul Ahlquist

Brad Schwartz, Morgridge CEO, says the Rowes’ gift is accelerating virology research at the institute and across UW-Madison.

“The Rowes are tackling some of humanity’s biggest viral threats and supporting research that could help stop hundreds of disease-causing viruses. Along the way, we are likely to learn things that have other benefits we can’t even predict,” says Schwartz. “All of us at the Morgridge Institute are honored by their philanthropy, and the confidence they have shown in us.”

Using seed investments from the center and partnering with the university, the Morgridge Institute will soon launch a search for a fourth new virology faculty investigator specializing in cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). The position builds on a major initiative to create a new campus cryo-EM facility at the Department of Biochemistry through a partnership with the Morgridge Institute, the School of Medicine and Public Health, the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, and the UW Carbone Cancer Center, to enable an immense range of multi-disciplinary, multi-investigator, transformative bioscience.

“The Rowes are people with a thoughtful, creative vision, whose generosity and commitment show how much impact a dedicated couple can have,” says Ahlquist. “They can see the far-reaching and lasting benefits emerging from the field of virology.”