A new and extraordinary $22 million gift to the University of Michigan Health System is making possible a new and extraordinary institute — one with a mission of supporting fundamental research to advance the understanding of the causes, treatment and prevention of a broad range of human diseases.
The A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, being established in the U-M Medical School, is named for the retail pioneer whose funding and vision led to its creation. Mr. Taubman’s gift creates an endowment whose earnings will fund the institute, and the research of individual Taubman Scholars within the institute, for generations to come.
The first five Taubman Scholars have already been chosen from among the Medical School’s top scientists. Each was selected for his or her remarkable creativity and research that holds the potential to significantly advance the development of a cure or preventive treatment for a human disease.
Each scientist will receive a three-year grant that will provide $200,000 per year for his or her laboratory team to use in their pursuit of new knowledge. This leaves them free to pursue the most promising possibilities. The scholars will also serve as advocates for research, by taking part in U-M efforts to educate the public about the importance of biomedical research, and of public and private support for such research.
At the end of three years, the scholars’ grants may be renewed, and new scholars may be chosen from among the Medical School faculty, by an oversight committee chaired by U-M executive vice president for medical affairs Robert Kelch, M.D.
“We are on the doorstep of amazing scientific discoveries that will dramatically improve the health of people around the world,” says Mr. Taubman, who attended the University of Michigan and has been one of the institution’s most generous supporters, with lifetime giving of more than $60 million. “I am delighted to be able to support the important research of the university’s talented scientists and physicians. I am especially proud that their groundbreaking work is being done right here in Michigan.”
The new gift is a bold expression of faith in the potential impact of laboratory research, and in the strength of U-M’s position in the life sciences, says Dr. Kelch. “Mr. Taubman clearly sees the value of giving brilliant people the freedom they need to explore new avenues, and to pursue innovative ideas, in the quest to overcome major diseases or reduce the impact of disease on individuals and society,” he explains. “We are grateful for his generosity and his vision.”
“Philanthropy is the lifeblood of the world’s great universities,” says University President Mary Sue Coleman. “Generous gifts such as Mr. Taubman’s, which provide funds devoted specifically to seeding innovative research in perpetuity, are what ensure U-M’s long-term ability to build and sustain its contributions to society. Moreover, in the process of conducting this research, we will also be able to train new generations of researchers and educators.”
The timing of the new gift could not be better, says U-M Medical School Dean James O. Woolliscroft, M.D. “During a time when the federal government’s financial support for research is wavering, philanthropic contributions are increasingly providing the support necessary to carry out promising research. At the same time, this gift allows us to recognize and support our distinguished investigators in a way that will surely help retain them at Michigan and attract future faculty as well.”
The first five scholars are:
- Valerie Castle, M.D., a pediatric cancer specialist whose laboratory is working on strategies to make cancer cells “commit suicide” in the most common form of solid-tumor cancers in children. Dr. Castle is also chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, and the Ravitz Foundation Professor of Pediatrics.
- Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., a neurologist and scientist whose laboratory has already received $7 million from Mr. Taubman to fund research on the use of stem cells and other approaches to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Dr. Feldman heads the U-M Program for Neurology Research & Discovery and is the DeJong Professor of Neurology.
- David Pinsky, M.D., a cardiologist and scientist who studies proteins involved in preventing the formation of clots inside blood vessels, which could lead to a new class of drugs to prevent strokes and heart attacks. Dr. Pinsky is also chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, the Ruth Professor of Internal Medicine, and a director of the U-M Cardiovascular Center.
- Yehoash Raphael, Ph.D., a cell biologist working on inner ear biology, who is developing ways to grow stem cells into the “hair cells” that are crucial to our ability to hear, and to implant those cells into deaf ears to replace damaged cells and restore hearing. Dr. Raphael is the Williams Professor of Otolaryngology and a member of U-M’s Kresge Hearing Research Institute.
- Max Wicha, M.D., a cancer researcher who reported the first finding in a solid tumor of cancer stem cells – the small number of cells within a tumor that fuel its growth. Dr. Wicha is the founding director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Distinguished Professor of Oncology.
The grants to these first five may be renewed at the end of three years depending on their research productivity. Additional scholars may be chosen in future as the endowment grows. Each scholar’s proposal, whether new or renewing, will be evaluated in detail by the oversight committee, which will also hear a presentation from each prospective Taubman Scholar and visit his or her laboratory.
In addition to Dr. Kelch, the committee includes Dr. Woolliscroft; Kim Eagle, M.D., a director of the U-M Cardiovascular Center; Dr. Feldman, who was the first Taubman Scholar chosen; Mr. Taubman; and Jeffrey Miro, a Michigan-based attorney and adjunct professor at the U-M Law School. As the Institute goes forward, U-M will continue to have at least four representatives on the committee, with the Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs as chair or co-chair.