UW-Madison: New chair in regenerative biology

Contact: Brian Mattmiller, 608-316-4332, [email protected]

Madison – Phil Newmark, a developmental biologist studying the mysteries of how the body regenerates damaged tissue, has started serving as the first recipient of the Burnell R. Roberts Chair in Regenerative Biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Newmark joined the Morgridge Institute for Research and the Department of Zoology this summer, along with his team of eight researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The chair was provided generously by the Roberts Foundation and 1950 alumnus Burnell R. Roberts, who received his BBA degree in accounting at UW-Madison.

To continue to make important new discoveries, Newmark believes you have to start with curiosity.

“There’s been a real push away from asking fundamental questions,” he says. “And yet all of the breakthroughs that impact people ultimately come from asking questions about how the world works.”

In the mid-1990s, Newmark began studying the planarian, a type of freshwater flatworm with a remarkable ability to regenerate its entire body from scratch. The planarian has become a model organism used to help researchers better understand stem cell-based regeneration processes, an important step toward potential therapies to repair or replace damaged human tissue.

“What we’ve been learning about how planarians regenerate has put us on this whole other path, applying this knowledge to studies of parasites that affect hundreds of millions of people,” he says. “That’s not anything I would’ve predicted when I started this 20 years ago.”

Roberts, 89, was born in Rewey, Wisconsin, and served as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of The Mead Corporation. He also served on the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation Board of Trustees. Over the past 16 years, Roberts has watched the Morgridge Institute grow from an early idea to a thriving biomedical research institute.

“The Morgridge Institute has been such a superb asset for the University of Wisconsin,” says Roberts. “It really is an incredible story.”

Thanks to support generated by the chair’s endowment, Newmark will have valuable new resources to leverage state-of-the-art facilities and continue nurturing the young researchers and scientists in his lab. The funding also opens up new avenues for collaboration, such as with Morgridge Investigator Dave Pagliarini’s work with the Metabolism Initiative and the engineering expertise of the Morgridge Fab Lab.

“We have a lot to do,” Newmark says with a smile.

The Newmark Lab includes Tracy Chong (Ph.D., University of Illinois), HHMI Research Specialist; Jiarong Gao, graduate student: Melanie Issigonis (Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University), assistant scientist; Umair Khan, graduate student; Jayhun Lee (Ph.D., Cornell University), postdoctoral fellow; Tania Rozario (Ph.D., University of Virginia), postdoctoral fellow; Rosa Mejia-Sanchez, graduate student; and Alyshia Scholl, HHMI Research Technician.