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New biotechnology center opens at UW-River Falls

March 12, 2009

UW-River Falls biology students, professors and doctors from across the region gathered in the University Center Ballroom on Monday for the symposium and opening event of the new Tissue and Cellular Innovation Center (TCIC).

The idea for the center came about in 2001 when UWRF biology professor Timothy Lyden “set out to establish a robust research program involving undergraduate students,” according to the program for Monday’s events. Its mission is “to develop a nationally recognized and self-supporting Center of Excellence for research and training in tissue engineering, stem cell biology and biomedical technology” at the University.

In her speech, UWRF Interim Chancellor Connie Foster called the TCIC’s development and opening an “evolutionary step forward.”

“The TCIC is a new paradigm that blends UWRF’s education missions with the scholarship of research and science through internal and external collaborations,” she said. “This combination enhances the experiences of our students by seeking opportunities to experience laboratory work and other direct skills they will need in later educational and job placements.”

One of the unique features of the TCIC is the collaborative research efforts that it has formed with the Marshfield Clinic and other organizations. In addition, funding from the UWRF Foundation and WiSys has made these collaborative relationships with companies, labs and other UW campuses possible.

Dick Leinenkugel, Wisconsin secretary of commerce and the keynote speaker at the event, said that funding is important in the development of future research. 

“Through collaboration, truly innovative economic solutions will be forthcoming to the state and also to the region,” he said. “If we work together, we can survive this economic downturn and come through stronger than ever.”

He stressed that the center is part of a movement to help combat economic troubles and bring more jobs to Wisconsin.

“[The TCIC] will help Wisconsin meet technological challenges…produce spin-off and start-up businesses…and support job growth in the area,” Leinenkugel said.

Leinenkugel also spoke of Wisconsin’s role as a both a national and international leader in the field of biotechnology.

“This center is just one of several emerging technology centers planned or already established in the UW System,” he said. “The TCIC is the second to open, following the UW-Platteville Nanotechnology Center for Collaborative Research and Development, which opened in December.”

He also noted that research centers are set to open at UW-Stout, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Whitewater this year.

1962 UWRF graduate Bob Nelson also spoke at the event, and said that the inception of the TCIC gives graduates from this University a large advantage over students who graduate from universities that do not have research centers.

“Students graduating from here now will get a jump start,” he said. “They are able to take part in the rediscovery of information and become discoverers themselves.”

This will, in turn, make UWRF graduates more competitive in the job market and more valuable to future employers, he said.

The final speaker at the event was Lyden, who, in addition to being a UWRF professor, is also the director of the TCIC. Like Leinenkugel and Foster, he also discussed the importance of collaboration, noting that it takes place in academic research, clinical research and research within the industry itself. Lyden also talked about the TCIC helping in both teaching and learning.

“Experimental teaching and learning is the best kind possible,” he said.

In addition to the speakers in the opening event, the symposium earlier in the morning featured presentations by TCIC collaborating fellows, future fellows and related partners, including Dr. Daniel Saltzman of the University of Minnesota, Dr. Ray Haselby of the Marshfield Clinic, Dr. Peter Dalhberg who introduced the new River Falls Cancer Center and Dr. Randy Lambrecht, the vice president for research and academic relations at Aurora Health Care who also spoke of the importance of research collaboration.

Posters were on display in the Ballroom throughout the day’s events for participants and visitors to view. The day wrapped up with a meeting of the TCIC collaborating fellows to focus on planning for future projects and interactions that the center will take part in.

All of the presenters at the event were quick to point out how prestigious the TCIC is to the UWRF campus community, the City of River Falls and the state of Wisconsin. The center will have significant economic and research-based impacts on the biomedical and biotechnology fields in the region, according to the program.

“The center is proof that Wisconsin is moving strongly ahead in biotechnology and it is a key component to our overall effort in this area,” Leinenkugel said. “Here in Wisconsin we’re also recognizing the potential to become an international stem cell center. We own the technology, we own the research capabilities and we own the brainpower.”

(Additional reporting for this article was done by Joy Stanton.)