29 Sep Stem cell research helped lure Martin back to UW-Madison
Madison, Wis. – Carolyn “Biddy” Martin is an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but that wasn’t the only thing that convinced her to pursue the chancellor’s job following John Wiley’s decision to step down.
Interviewed at the World Stem Cell Summit, which was held last week in Madison, Martin said the UW’s leading edge work in life sciences, including stem cell research, also interested her in the job.
“The cutting-edge research in the life sciences here in general piqued my interest in the position, but of course the stem research is really right at the leading edge of what is an enormously impressive life sciences infrastructure,” said Martin, who came to the UW-Madison after serving as provost at Cornell University. “It definitely played a role.”
Stem cell concerns
While public support for human embryonic stem cell (hES) research has grown over time, there is some concern that the introduction of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which are derived without destroying embryos, could erode public support for hES research. Researchers continue to view hES research as a vital to science, noting that iPS cells would not have been discovered without them.
Asked whether she has concerns about UW-Madison’s ability to advance the research, which still is controversial despite growing support, Martin said public understanding is a constant challenge. That concern was emphasized during the World Stem Cell Summit, as stem cell research pioneer Jamie Thomson continued to caution against unrealistic expectations for stem cell research, and others offered sobering details about the challenges associated with commercializing the research.
“Certainly I have concerns about public understanding and reaction to stem cell research and its implications,” Martin said. “I also have concerns generally. I think it’s enormously exciting but also requires the input of a range of different kinds of thinkers and different kinds of thought to ensure that progress scientifically in this area is accompanied by an equal amount of energy focused on what the ethical and social implications of stem cell research really are.”
Martin believes state government is committed to help the university compete for research talent with well-funded stem cell research programs in other states, including California and its $6 billion program made possible by the passage of Proposition 71.
“I think the Legislature, and I think the public in general and certainly the university are concerned that we keep our best faculty and researchers,” she said. “I look forward to working with them to ensure that we have what we need to keep people in Madison.”
At UW-Madison, construction is underway on the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, twin institutes that promises to take collaborative, interdisciplinary research to new heights. Former chancellor John Wiley has been named interim director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, the public side.
Cyber infrastructure expert Sangtae Kim, now with Purdue University, will direct the private Morgridge Institute, where he has been charged with establishing a center of excellence for scientific information technology. In addition, Jamie Thomson is serving as a scientific director for Morgridge.
Construction of the institutes, which are expected to open in 2010, is among the developments that have Martin confident the university will continue to play a leading role in stem cell research.
“I think it makes sense, in general, for everyone to promote an interdisciplinary approach to this, and to get all of our best thinkers and policy makers engaged in a discussion,” Martin said. “I hope that the way will be open to more concerted efforts in research on stem cells.”
Martin said it meant a great deal for UW-Madison to play host to the World Stem Cell Summit, which attracted researchers, entrepreneurs, and investors. She said it was appropriate for the university to host the event because of the global impact of its stem cell research.
“It’s exciting both because of the importance of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the history of stem cell research,” she said, “and also because of the value placed here by faculty, staff, and community members on collaboration and international partnerships.”