Early career Wisconsin scientists earn combined $600,000 from Greater Milwaukee Foundation

Milwaukee, Wis., June 3, 2019 – With a $600,000 investment, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation is supporting the next generation of scientific leaders through its competitive and longstanding Shaw Scientist Program. Three early career faculty representing University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and University of Wisconsin-Madison are each receiving $200,000 grants to advance highly innovative research projects with implications for human health.

“Wisconsin is brimming with talent, and by rewarding innovation, philanthropy can provide incentive for talented people to stay here, or relocate here, and contribute to bettering the health of others,” said Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of the Foundation. “Congratulations to this year’s Shaw Scientists, whose promising research honors the goals of our visionary donor, Dorothy Shaw.”

Helen C.S. Meier, PhD, MPH

Dr. Meier, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health at UW-Milwaukee, researches aging in the immune system. She studies how various social and environmental exposures at different stages of life affect immune function, and consequently, how changes in immune function influence later life health.

“For example, the specific type of influenza strain you had as a child may impact whether or not an influenza vaccine is effective for you as an older adult,” Dr. Meier said. “My work seeks to understand these complex relationships to inform healthy aging.”

In her work, Dr. Meier partners with local community groups and health departments on projects that strengthen community health. She considers the Shaw Scientist Award a “game-changer.”

Darcie L. Moore, PhD

Dr. Moore, assistant professor of neuroscience at UW-Madison, is studying adult stem cells in an area of the brain important for learning and memory. A decrease in these cells over time is associated with cognitive decline, so Dr. Moore is exploring how stress and aging change the process by which the cells divide.

Her lab has found that aging leads to differences in the proportions of damaged proteins that each cell inherits in the process of division. She now seeks to determine how proteins involved in this process interact, with a goal of identifying potential therapeutics that could either interrupt or promote such interactions.

“This award encourages out-of-the-box thinking and provides young researchers with important flexibility in addressing research questions whose outcomes are not entirely known,” Dr. Moore said. “Support of this type of high-risk science enables novel discoveries to be made.”

Zachary S. Morris, MD, PhD

Dr. Morris is assistant professor of radiation oncology and vice-chair of human oncology at UW School of Medicine and Public Health. He aims to study how different doses of radiation therapy may impact the ability of a patient’s immune system to recognize their cancer and how radiation dose may affect the susceptibility of cancer cells to that immune response.

Building from that understanding, Dr. Morris plans to test whether brachytherapy – a particular type of radiation therapy that involves implanting a radioactive “seed” in a patient’s tumor – improves the tumor’s response to certain immunotherapies. Melanoma will be the first cancer tested, with the expectation of expanding this research to a wide variety of tumor types.

“In today’s research funding climate, philanthropic support plays a critical role in the development of new concepts, enabling researchers to take new ideas and advance these to more substantiated concepts with preliminary data to support their feasibility,” he said. “Without such support, it is very difficult to pursue the research needed to move new ideas into viable concepts for grants. Yet, those new ideas are the critical engine for innovation in science and medicine.”

About the Shaw Scientist Award

The Foundation’s annual Shaw Scientist Program supports early career investigators seeking promising solutions in biochemistry, biological sciences and cancer research. The awards began in 1982 thanks to a $4.3 million bequest from Dorothy Shaw, widow of James Shaw, a prominent Milwaukee attorney. In addition to $2 million in special grants, the Shaws’ fund has awarded nearly $15 million in grants to 78 scientists from UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee since its creation. An advisory panel with scientists representing major U.S. research institutions recommends the winners.

About the Greater Milwaukee Foundation
The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is Wisconsin’s largest community foundation and was among the first established in the world. For more than a century, the Foundation has inspired philanthropy by connecting generous people to community needs that align with their interests. The Foundation was founded on the premise that generosity can unlock an individual’s potential and strengthen the community as a whole for everyone who lives here. We work in partnership with those who are committed to ensuring greater Milwaukee is a vibrant, economically thriving region that comprises welcoming and inclusive communities providing opportunity, prosperity and a high quality of life for all.