July 7, 2015

Donation from Millicent and Eugene Bell Foundation Supports New UChicago Professorship in Tissue Engineering with Appointment in MBL’s Bell Center

By Jeremy Manier, University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is creating a new professorship in tissue engineering to promote innovative work at the University’s Institute for Molecular Engineering and the Marine Biological Laboratory, supported by a $3.5 million donation from the Millicent and Eugene Bell Foundation.

The starlet sea anemone (Nematostella) is an emerging model organism for the study of regeneration. Credit: Adam Reitzel, courtesy of John R. Finnerty

The starlet sea anemone (Nematostella) is an emerging model organism for the study of regeneration. Credit: Adam Reitzel, courtesy of John R. Finnerty

The Eugene Bell Professorship in Tissue Engineering will reside within the Institute for Molecular Engineering. That endowed chair holder also will direct a research project at the MBL’s Eugene Bell Center for Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering, and will have an appointment at the Bell Center. The MBL and UChicago formed an affiliation in 2013 to advance biological research and education at both institutions.

Tissue engineering and regenerative biology have the potential to produce breakthroughs in healing damaged body parts or even growing new organs. They are inherently multidisciplinary fields, drawing from new technology in materials science and fabrication as well as basic research in fields such as genetics and cell biology.

“The emerging collaborations between scientists at the University and the MBL are well suited to address the scientific challenges of tissue engineering,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “Many innovations in medical treatments depend on robust links of basic research and new technology. We are grateful for the generous support of the Millicent and Eugene Bell Foundation, which will allow our scholars to do pioneering work in the rapidly changing field of tissue engineering.”

The new professorship will foster scholarship on tissue engineering at the MBL and the Institute for Molecular Engineering, where scientists are focused on exploring innovative technology at the molecular scale, with the potential for societal impact in areas including health care, computing, energy and the environment.

“We have a very unusual chance with our colleagues at the MBL to bring together different scientific perspectives and specialties in search of breakthrough discoveries that could have profound impacts for patients,” said Matt Tirrell, the founding Pritzker Director of the Institute for Molecular Engineering.

For more than a century, scientists at the MBL in Woods Hole, Mass. have studied how certain marine species are able to regenerate damaged tissue. The MBL’s Bell Center includes a national resource for research on the frog called Xenopus, which has unique regenerative abilities and is a major animal model for biomedical research.

“This extraordinary gift from the Millicent and Eugene Bell Foundation continues the Bell family’s generous support of the Marine Biological Laboratory by providing a transformative research opportunity in our affiliation with the University of Chicago,” said MBL President and Director Joan Ruderman.

Millicent Bell, a trustee of the Marine Biological Laboratory since 2009, made the gift through the Bell Foundation in memory of her late husband, Dr. Eugene Bell, a longtime member of the MBL scientific community. While a professor at MIT from 1956 to 1986, Eugene Bell founded the field of tissue engineering through efforts to generate replacement tissue for treating severe burns and other injuries. After retiring from MIT, Eugene Bell founded two companies: Organogenesis Inc., to produce replacement skin, and TEI Biosciences, which used expertise in regenerative medicine to develop new biologic products for various soft tissue repair applications.

“Gene would have been delighted to see how beautifully his hopes for a grand future for tissue engineering are going forward, and I am overjoyed to be able to continue to help in the effort,” Millicent Bell said. “I am looking forward to the prospect of advanced research and of its medical application that will result—and am extremely pleased to see Gene’s humane dreams realized.”

Millicent Bell is a retired professor of English at Boston University and the author of numerous books, including Edith Wharton and Henry James: The Story of their Friendship and Marquand: An American Life. She is the recipient of many honors, including a Howard Foundation fellowship, the Shell Award, a Guggenheim fellowship and the Winship Prize for biography. Her longtime support of the MBL includes gifts totaling $8 million to help establish the Bell Center in 2010.

Second Scientific Retreat Moves MBL, University of Chicago Toward “A New Era in Discovery”

Attendees gather on the steps of the MBL’s Lillie Building during the MBL-University of Chicago Second Scientific Retreat, May 3, 2014. Photo by Tom Kleindinst

By Diana Kenney

Keeping up the momentum after their first retreat in Chicago in February, faculty and scientists from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL)’s year-round and visiting scientist communities, the University of Chicago, and Argonne National Laboratory convened for a second retreat at the MBL in May. The MBL, located in Woods Hole, Mass., and the University of Chicago affiliated last year.

View the Retreat Program

View the Retreat Slideshow

Through wide-ranging, lively discussions about the big research questions the affiliation is uniquely positioned to address, the 190 retreat participants emerged with several key scientific themes for the University and the MBL to explore.

“There are two parts to an affiliation like ours: vision and strategy,” said Karl Matlin, professor in UChicago’s Surgery Department and co-chairman of the retreat committee, which was comprised of University and MBL scientists. “In designing this retreat, our goal was to put both the vision and the strategy in your hands,” Matlin said to the gathering in MBL’s Lillie Auditorium.

“This was scientists getting together, discussing what they want the MBL-UChicago affiliation to become,” said Joel Smith, MBL’s associate director of education and co-chair of the retreat. “There was a palpable sense the affiliation offers unique opportunities for world-leading science; goals the individual institutions could not achieve on their own.”

Shaping a Vision

The retreat kicked off with the attendees discussing, in randomly assigned breakout groups, “Which important scientific questions are the affiliates best positioned to address at a world-class level?” These stimulating, cross-disciplinary conversations generated a list of 35 compelling scientific questions, which the attendees evaluated later in the day. It eventually became apparent that the scientific questions could sort under a few broadly defined categories: Imaging; Computational Biology; Organisms; and Seed/Collaborations, the latter being a cross-cutting request for more opportunities for MBL and UChicago scientists to interact through mechanisms such as seed grants for early research.

“This was an inclusive process in which everyone present had a voice, including a large number of MBL summer investigators,” said neurobiologist Steve Zottoli, an MBL adjunct senior scientist from Williams College and a member of the retreat committee. “Of the four emerging categories, everybody had a stake in one of them, or part of one. It was remarkable how the participants arrived at what they thought were the strengths of the MBL, the strengths UChicago brings, and what could be the best first steps.”

The “Imaging” category, for example, embraces imaging life across multiple scales, from atomic to ecosystems, and pulls in scientists from many disciplines, including biologists, physicists, computer scientists, and environmental scientists. The “Computational Biology” category is also inclusive, with research ideas ranging from gene regulatory networks in developmental and cancer biology, to neural networks, to microbiomes in human and animal health, to global biogeochemistry networks. While the “Organism” category focuses on marine animals, it includes other model organisms, such as Xenopus and zebrafish, as well as marine microbial communities.

“We are moving our mindset from a two-institution view to a more unified one, which is the most important thing,” said Jonathan Gitlin, MBL’s Deputy Director for Research and Programs. “It’s the intellectual capital that really drives this affiliation. We have the opportunity to ask, ‘What incredible scientific questions can the MBL and UChicago get traction on, that nobody else can?’ Answering that takes thinking like one institution.”

“It’s important to realize that this retreat was a very positive starting point; not a fait accompli,” Zottoli said. “We will continue discussing [the scientific goals of the affiliation] all summer long in the MBL’s Whitman Center for Visiting Research, where I am on the planning committee.” To further engage MBL course faculty and visiting researchers, another retreat is planned for summer 2015 at the MBL.

Second MBL-University of Chicago Retreat Slideshow
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From Vision to Strategy

On the second morning of the retreat, breakout groups met to identify the critical first steps needed to move forward in these emerging scientific areas. “This is the strategy part of the affiliation,” Matlin said.

Those strategic recommendations will be considered by the MBL and University of Chicago faculty advisory committees, which are responsible for fostering and developing the affiliation through collaborative research and educational initiatives. The UChicago faculty advisory committee is led by Neil Shubin, the Robert R. Bensley Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy and Senior Advisor to the President and Vice President for Research and National Laboratories at the University of Chicago.

“There is a clear need for focused conferences on imaging, computation, marine resources, and other scientific priorities, with white papers as output. These will begin in fall 2014,” Shubin said as the retreat drew to a close. The MBL and UChicago faculty advisory committees will also start examining the scientific infrastructure at the institutions, he said. “What do we have, and what do we need to move forward in our collaborations?”

Welcome to the MBL

The second retreat also served as a welcoming orientation for many UChicago and Argonne faculty who had never visited the MBL before. Tours of the Loeb teaching labs, the National Xenopus Resource, the visiting scientists’ labs in Rowe, and the Marine Resources Center were offered, and a poster session and mixer launched the retreat on Friday night.

“These kind of visits leave people energized and transformed, when they see the resources that the affiliation brings to the table. Both Neil Shubin and I want to encourage more of them,” Gitlin said. To that end, the University of Chicago has set up an MBL-UChicago Connection Fund that enables visits between the campuses for students, scientists and staff, as well as joint workshops.

“Enormous Potential”

En route to achieving broad consensus on scientific themes that the affiliates could address, the retreat yielded an abundance of stimulating ideas for scientific exchange. Ideas flowed both from the breakout group discussions and from scientific talks (see retreat program).

For example, “how to deal with questions of scale across the sciences” emerged as an important question that the affiliates could effectively investigate, said MBL President and Director Joan Ruderman. “We have an opportunity to look in a large way from genomes to global cycles,” she said. “Also, we are also are just starting to explore marine diversity, from the microbes that are estimated to be more numerous than stars in the universe, to marine organisms that may serve as good models for biomedical discovery,” she said. “There is enormous room for discovery here, and opportunities for translation into improved public health and for stewardship of the Earth for all future life.”

Science Teachers from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools Visit the MBL

By Diana Kenney

Three science teachers and a principal from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools spent Friday, May 16 on the MBL campus, where they explored various ways in which their middle- and high-school students could engage with the MBL.

Photo caption: Teachers from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools visited the MBL last week. From left: Daniel Calleri, Science Department faculty and biology instructor; Bill Reznikoff, MBL Director of Education; Michael Wong, science teacher; Scott Fech, principal, University High School; Sharon Housinger, science teacher, and Joel Smith, MBL Associate Director of Education. Credit: Jonathan Gitlin

Photo caption: Teachers from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools visited the MBL last week. From left: Daniel Calleri, Science Department faculty and biology instructor; MBL Director of Education Bill Reznikoff; Michael Wong, science teacher; Scott Fech, principal, University High School; Sharon Housinger, science teacher; and Joel Smith, MBL Associate Director of Education. Credit: Jonathan Gitlin

“We are meeting with MBL scientists and staff, and I am becoming incredibly jealous of the awesome things happening here! I’ve already had 1,000 ideas from these conversations,” said Daniel Calleri, a biology instructor in the Laboratory Schools’ high school.

The private Laboratory Schools include five schools, ranging from nursery to high school, located on the University of Chicago campus. Children of UChicago faculty and staff comprise about 60 percent of the schools’ 1,850 students, while the rest come from Illinois and beyond. Founded by education reformer and philosopher John Dewey in 1896, the Laboratory Schools’ mission values including “learning experientially, exhibiting kindness, and honoring diversity.”

“We have a learning by doing philosophy,” said Scott Fech, principal of the high school (known as University High School or U-High). “We look for ways to make a tangible connection between what the students learn in class, and what is happening out in the world,” added Michael Wong, a middle-school science teacher.

The teachers saw the marine organisms in the MBL’s Marine Resources Center and the frogs in its National Xenopus Resource, and met with MBL scientists working in a variety of fields, including cell, developmental, and regenerative biology, neuroscience, and environmental science.

“What is going on here? Everything! The sky is the limit,” said high-school science teacher Sharon Housinger.

Among other possible interactions, the group explored ways to engage the students in a research question during a visit to Woods Hole, which they could continue to pursue in Chicago. For example, Wong suggested, the students could set up two shoreline webcams, one on Lake Michigan and one on Cape Cod, and collect the data on the web to compare freshwater and ocean ecology. “This is the way education is going: We are interested in forming partnerships with other schools and institutes, and continuing to share on the web after the initial engagement,” Fech said.

“The MBL doesn’t yet have program for middle- and high-schoolers,” said MBL Associate Director of Education Joel Smith. “We see this opportunity with the Laboratory Schools as an excellent way to start, to begin building a flagship program that excites kids about science for the rest of their lives.”

First MBL-UChicago Retreat Explores New Ideas for Joint Research and Programs

Attendees pose for a group shot during the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL)-University of Chicago Retreat at the Biological Sciences Learning Center on the UChicago campus on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 in Chicago.  (Photo by Joel Wintermantle)

Attendees pose for a group shot during the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL)-University of Chicago Retreat at the Biological Sciences Learning Center on the UChicago campus on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 in Chicago. (Photo by Joel Wintermantle)

By Diana Kenney

An energized group of 240 scientists, faculty members and students from the Marine Biological Laboratory and the University of Chicago, including the Argonne National Laboratory, came together at the University campus in Chicago recently to explore a broad range of ideas for joint scientific research and educational programming.

The MBL-UChicago Retreat on February 8-10 was the largest joint scientific meeting since the two institutions launched their formal affiliation in July 2013. It sparked excitement and animated discussions among researchers who got to know their colleagues through panel sessions, “lightning talks,” roundtables, chats during breaks, and spontaneous side meetings.

View a slideshow
of the retreat here
Download a pdf of the retreat program here

“There is so much energy around the affiliation, and intellectual vigor to make it work. It’s wonderful to see the exchange of ideas and exuberance emerge,” said Neil Shubin, Robert R. Bensley Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy and Senior Advisor to the President and Vice President for Research and National Laboratories at the University of Chicago.

Shubin leads a faculty advisory committee that is charged with fostering scientific collaboration between the two institutions and developing the affiliation through research and education initiatives such as workshops, courses, student fellowships, program seed funding, joint appointments, or shared facilities.

The MBL-University of Chicago Faculty Advisory Committee

Neil Shubin (Chair), Organismal Biology and Anatomy

Joy M. Bergelson, Ecology and Evolution

Juan de Pablo, Institute for Molecular Engineering

Richard Fehon, Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology

Jack Gilbert, Argonne National Laboratory

Conrad Gilliam, Human Genetics and Dean, Biological Sciences Division Research

Jonathan Gitlin, MBL Deputy Director for Research and Programs

William N. Green, Neurobiology

Melina Hale, Organismal Biology and Anatomy

David Jablonski, Geophysical Sciences

Victoria Prince, Organismal Biology and Anatomy

Joan Ruderman, MBL President and Director

Rick Stevens, Argonne National Laboratory

Brian Clark (Staff), Associate Director for Operations and Planning, Office of the Executive Vice President

Rénu Kulkarni (Staff), AVP for Strategic Initiatives and Affiliation Operational Lead

The retreat was one step in an ongoing process of discussion and engagement that will result in creating meaningful programs that capitalize on the affiliates’  complementary strengths, and have lasting value for their student and research communities, Shubin said. A second retreat will be held on the MBL’s campus in Woods Hole, Mass., on May 3-4.

Participants said the retreat delivered on the promise of bringing researchers at MBL and UChicago closer together. “The spirit of collaboration is here,” said Zhe-Xi Luo, a professor of organismal biology and anatomy at UChicago.

“Where we go from today is up to all of you,” said Jonathan Gitlin, Deputy Director for Research and Programs at the MBL, to the many students and post-docs at the retreat. “I urge you to take this opportunity— with a brilliant University with limitless intellectual capital and an extraordinary place of discovery like the MBL—and become part of our conversation, drive us forward, change the world.”

The first morning’s program was designed to better familiarize the affiliation partners with each other. MBL President and Director Joan Ruderman gave an overview of the MBL and its three intersecting parts: advanced summer courses; resident research in biological and environmental sciences; and visiting research conducted by investigators from a host of universities and institutions worldwide.

“The MBL is one of the few places in the world that provides lab space, housing, and other support to a large number of researchers from different universities, to catalyze and enhance scientific collaboration,” Ruderman said.  She outlined ways in which students and scientists from the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory can take advantage of new and existing opportunities at MBL.

Shared research values

John W. Boyer, Dean of the College at UChicago, described the historical development of the culture of learning at the University, distinguished by its rigorous core undergraduate program, dual faculty appointments between the divisions and the College, a tradition of strong interdisciplinary cooperation among departments, and a flexible quarter system to allow time for creative and investigative sabbaticals.

“MBL seems to have a culture of risk taking: if something doesn’t work, try something else. Chicago faculty are also like that,” Boyer said. “They are empowered to follow their noses in research.” The institutions also share core values of interdisciplinary research and collaboration, he said.

The ingredients that power the MBL’s renowned research-immersion courses were the topic of talks by former Physiology course co-director Ron Vale of HHMI/University of California, San Francisco, and MBL Director of Education Bill Reznikoff.

“We create an intense, collaborative, interdisciplinary environment in the courses centered around solving real research problems,” Vale said. While publications are not an emphasis or goal of the courses, students often continue to collaborate with faculty on projects started in a course and eventually end up with a research publication, he said. “Many students are literally crying at the end of the summer because they have to leave this special environment that they and the faculty have created to explore the joy of doing science.”

Developing new avenues for growth

Participants discussed undergraduate research and diversity initiatives, and faculty members pitched creative ideas for new courses. Next, five-minute “lightning talks” on current research at the University and the MBL yielded fruitful questions and conversation.

In an effort to capture the growing flood of ideas in the room, Mark Westneat, professor of organismal biology and anatomy, encouraged everyone to submit their favorite idea on a Post-It note or via Twitter. These were sorted and posted at an “Idea Mutator” reception in the afternoon.

An illustrated talk on the rich history of collaboration between the MBL and UChicago was given at dinner by Jane Maienschein, the Regent’s, President’s, and Parents Association Professor at Arizona State University and adjunct senior scientist at the MBL.

The second day of the retreat was devoted to a deeper exploration of how the scientists at the two institutions can collaborate effectively. After a discussion of core shared-use facilities on each campus, the attendees chose thematic roundtables. Enthusiastic conversations began to crystallize as “big ideas” and potential projects, and participants passed on their ideas for consideration by the affiliation’s faculty advisory committee over the next few weeks.

“I have never been to a meeting that was so broad,” said Karl Matlin, professor of surgery at University of Chicago and a member of the retreat planning committee.  “We are only two institutions, but it seems like 1+1=1,000 when we come together. That is the beauty of this affiliation.”

Shubin said the ideas from the lightning talks and roundtables showed the affiliation’s immense potential. Now his objective is to keep that conversation going and make the potential real.

“This affiliation is yours,” Shubin said to the gathering. “Your ideas, your teaching, your research programs will define it.”