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U.Va. To Establish Four Endowed Professorships For New Research Institute

May 19, 2003 -- With a $3 million gift from the Charlottesville-based Ivy Foundation and matching support from other sources, the University of Virginia will establish four new endowed professorships for its emerging programs in morphogenesis and regenerative medicine.

The gift was announced Monday at the opening of an international symposium hosted by the University’s new Morphogenesis and Regenerative Medicine Institute. An interdisciplinary endeavor that draws on faculty expertise in medicine, the basic sciences, biomedical engineering and other fields, the institute comprises researchers who are studying how cells form into specific organs and tissues and how to harness these natural processes to repair tissues damaged by disease or injury. This work holds tremendous promise for remedying birth defects, controlling cancers and healing wounds. It may even lead to the ability to produce replacement tissues and organs for transplantation.

The $3 million gift from the Ivy Foundation will create two professorships in the Department of Pediatrics to attract faculty whose research focuses on morphogenesis and regenerative medicine. Each faculty chair will be endowed at $1 million, and each will provide an additional $500,000 to support the chair-holder’s research. These funds may be used for such purposes as hiring graduate research assistants, renovating laboratory space or purchasing new equipment.

With a matching $3 million from its own resources, the University will create two more professorships to recruit outstanding researchers in this field. One professorship will be assigned to the Department of Cell Biology in the School of Medicine. The other will be in the Department of Biology in the College of Arts & Sciences. All four chairs will be named the Ivy Foundation Distinguished Professorships, pending approval by the Board of Visitors.

“These professorships will help us build a critical mass of superb investigators whose research sheds light on the basic processes of tissue and organ formation and how we can use these discoveries to develop new therapies,” said Dr. R. Ariel Gomez, the University’s interim vice president for research and graduate studies and a leading researcher in this field. “The Ivy Foundation chairs will enable us to recruit eminent faculty who in turn will attract outstanding graduate students and junior faculty. They will be magnets for excellence.”

Though based in different departments, all four faculty members holding Ivy Foundation chairs will be members of the new Morphogenesis and Regenerative Medicine Institute. Dr. Barry M. Gumbiner, chair of the Department of Cell Biology and director of the new institute, said the complexity of its research demands collaboration across scientific and medical disciplines.

“Approaching this scale of scientific challenge successfully will require a highly multidisciplinary approach,” Gumbiner said. “The institute promotes continuous interactions and collaborations among scientists in areas such as cell biology, genetics, developmental biology, computational biology, medicine, chemistry and materials engineering. By bringing these forces together, we can make extraordinary progress in solving the major problems in morphogenesis and regenerative medicine.”

Pediatrics is among the clinical disciplines that will benefit most immediately from these advances. By bridging the clinical and basic sciences, the physician-researchers holding the Ivy Foundation chairs will play a key role in translating the institute’s discoveries into new therapies that benefit infants and children.

“These world-class faculty will also be vital to our educational mission,” said Dr. Robert L. Chevalier, chair of the Department of Pediatrics. “There is currently a crisis in the supply of pediatric physician-scientists. The new chair-holders will serve as role models for students, residents and fellows who intend to pursue careers in high-quality research.”

Now ranked 25th among its peers in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Pediatrics hopes to move into the top 20 over the next five years. The Ivy Foundation chair-holders, who will come with well-established research programs, will enhance the department’s ability to meet this goal.

Chaired by William C. Battle, a University of Virginia alumnus and former chairman and chief executive officer of Fieldcrest Mills, the Ivy Foundation was created in 2000 with funds remaining from the closure of the W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. The assets that were transferred from the Cell Science Center to the Ivy Foundation consisted of some $7 million in cash and the company Upstate Biotechnology Inc. Formed by the W. Alton Jones Foundation to supplement its income, the Lake Placid firm makes products used in life science research and drug discovery.

“The purpose of the Ivy Foundation is to support basic research that will lead to real and significant outcomes in medicine,” said Battle. “By strengthening the research capabilities of the Department of Pediatrics, and by helping the University launch the morphogenesis institute, creating these professorships fits perfectly with our goal.”

In addition to providing the $3 million for the new faculty chairs, the Ivy Foundation has made some $500,000 in other grants for biomedical research at the University.

More information on the Morphogenesis and Regenerative Medicine Institute may be found on the Web at www.morphogenesis.virginia.edu.

Contact: Fariss Samarrai, (434) 924-3778

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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Last Modified: Thursday, 22-May-2003 16:16:34 EDT
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