WED AM News: WARF’s annual research grant to UW-Madison is $130M; UW stem cell research study focuses on spinal cord development

— WARF’s annual research grant to UW-Madison totals $130 million for this academic year. 

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation yesterday announced its Board of Trustees has approved a $66.1 million base grant following a request from the university’s Office of Research and Graduate Education. That amount is 4 percent higher than last year’s total, according to a release, and funds research for fall, spring and summer semesters. 

The base grant includes $13.5 million for faculty recruitment and retention, $12 million for graduate student support and $2.5 million for faculty fellowships, the release shows. 

It also provides $11.4 million for the university’s Fall Research Competition, $11 million for strategic initiatives, $6 million for various grant matches, $1.5 million for assorted supportive funding and $8.2 million for the Cluster Hiring Initiative and other targeted research efforts. 

WARF, which handles patenting and licensing for research for UW-Madison, also announced $21.7 million in supplemental grants for the university as well as $36.2 million in operational and functional support. And the foundation is providing a $6 million grant to the Morgridge Institute for Research in Madison.  

Institute CEO Brad Schwarz says the funding from WARF is vital to the group’s efforts to boost biomedical research in the state. 

“WARF funding has enabled Morgridge to help speed the development of select emerging research priorities at UW-Madison — everything from metabolism to advanced imaging to research computing,” he said in a statement. 

Since being incorporated in 1925, WARF has funded more than $4.1 billion in cumulative research grants to the university and the institute. That figure is adjusted for inflation. It’s also been issued more than 4,000 patents — including 2,100 active patents — and has helped create 185 startup companies, according to the foundation. 

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— Former WARF Managing Director Carl Gulbrandsen died Monday after a “lengthy illness,” according to a separate release from the foundation. 

During his 16-year tenure with WARF that ended in 2016, the organization’s investment portfolio doubled to over $2.6 billion. He also had a role in the formation of the WiSys Technology Foundation, which provides patenting and licensing to other UW System campuses. 

“Carl’s legacy of commitment to advancing university research and bringing scientific solutions forward to benefit the world continues in our work today and always will,” WARF CEO Erik Iverson said in the release. 

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— New stem cell research from UW-Madison could provide insights for improving spinal cord disease prevention and treatment. 

Scientists in the university’s Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center recently published a study in the journal Science Advances. According to a release, it details a protocol for differentiating human stem cells into various cell types involved in development of the spinal cord and hindbrain — where the spinal cord and brain meet. 

The study also involves using new analytical techniques to better understand that development process.

Prof. Sushmita Roy, a study co-author and faculty member at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery in Madison, says having a model for studying this process will “help us understand possible regulatory or genetic causes” of certain developmental diseases. 

“The ability to study human hindbrain development so early is of high significance because many developmental disorders manifest themselves through disruptions in the developmental program very early,” Roy said in the release. 

Randolph Ashton, a biomedical engineering professor and director of the SCRMC, says the study also lays the groundwork for a “very standardized and scalable protocol” for making regenerative cell transplants. 

“In order to get the best therapeutic results, you need to actually make cells from that region of injury,” Ashton said in the release. “So now we can say, if you need neuronal cells for your C3 through C5 vertebrae, we know how to generate those, and we have developed a scalable protocol for doing that.”

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— State and local tax collections rose 1.7 percent in 2020 as Wisconsin’s tax burden hit its lowest level in decades.

But the Wisconsin Policy Forum found the state’s national ranking for the highest state and local tax burden climbed to 18th from 24th in 2019. That’s largely because Wisconsin was one of 25 states that saw state and local revenues rise in 2020. The Wisconsin Policy Forum called that a testament to the state’s relatively strong economy in the early stages of the pandemic.

The increase in state and local tax collections was the lowest for a fiscal year since 2015.

The nonprofit group found Wisconsin tax revenues in 2019-20 dropped to 10.07 percent of personal income from 10.3 percent the year before. It’s the lowest figure for the state in Census data that goes back to 1993. It’s also the third year in a row that Wisconsin was below the national average of 10.12 percent.

Overall, state and local taxes rose to $31.05 billion from $30.52 billion the year before. Meanwhile, state and local taxes declined by 0.1 percent nationally.

For the main sources of state and local taxes:

*property tax collections rose 3.1 percent to 10.12 billion in 2020. The state had the 17th highest property tax burden among the 50 states for that fiscal year.

*income tax collections decreased 2.8 percent, reflecting a downturn from the pandemic and the impact of state tax cuts. Income taxes were 2.8 percent of personal income and $1,448 per capita, ranking the state 13th and 12th highest in the country.

*corporate tax collections grew 7.9 percent in 2020 to $1.44 billion. Nationally, corporate tax collections fell 10.7 percent. Because of that, Wisconsin rose to the eighth highest corporate tax burden from 15th the year before.

*sales tax collections increased 2.5 percent to $6.3 billion while they grew nationally by 1.7 percent. The sales tax burden fell to 2 percent of personal income, 32nd highest in the country.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum noted the state’s tax burden and ranking will likely change in the next two years. For example, state tax collections rose significantly in fiscal year 2021, which will likely increase the state’s overall burden. The state’s ranking will depend, in part, on what happens in other states.

Meanwhile, 2022 will include the impact of $1 billion in state income tax cuts included in the current budget. The budget also pumped significant increases in state aid to local school districts while holding overall spending caps flat. That should drive down school property taxes.

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— The Wisconsin Technology Council will honor gener8tor co-founders Joe Kirgues and Troy Vosseller with the annual Excellence in Entrepreneurial Education award during the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium. 

This year’s symposium will be held Nov. 9-10 at the Monona Terrace in Madison. 

The “Triple E” award highlights the importance of teaching and mentoring entrepreneurs. 

“Joe and Troy are successful entrepreneurs, investors and lawyers, to be sure, but they’re also mentors and teachers at heart,” Tech Council President Tom Still said in a statement. 

“It’s a big part of what makes them a deserving duo for this year’s Triple E award.”

Joe Boucher, a founder of the law firm Neider & Boucher, won the Triple E award in 2021.

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UW-Madison: WARF announces annual grant for university research

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