Tom Still: Waisman Center's four decades of research changes lives

2013-02-10T05:30:00Z Tom Still: Waisman Center's four decades of research changes livesTOM STILL | Wisconsin Technology Council | tstill@wisconsintechnologycouncil.com madison.com

The telegram from President John F. Kennedy to University of Wisconsin President Fred Harrington was both eerie and visionary. Eerie because it was delivered Nov. 20, 1963 — just two days before Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas — and visionary because it seemed to anticipate the challenges confronting science in its quest to explore the human brain.

"My special good wishes go to Dr. (Harry) Waisman on the culmination of his dream and to the many young people who, through his efforts and that of the University of Wisconsin, will now be able to enter and soon conquer the vast field of mental retardation and its attendant problems," Kennedy wrote.

The telegram was sent to mark the opening of the Joseph P. Kennedy Medical Laboratories at the UW Medical School, a precursor to what became the Waisman Center 10 years later.

Because the field of developmental disabilities is so "vast," as the president noted a half-century ago, it has yet to be conquered in any sense of the word. Important strides have been made, however, and some of them have taken place in the four decades since the Waisman Center opened as one of the nation's first wave of centers dedicated to study of the brain and the nervous system.

It is one of just 15 Eunice Kennedy Shriver research centers in the nation, but the Waisman Center doesn't always get the attention received by other UW-Madison research centers. Even so, its accomplishments over time — in pure research and in dealing with patients in clinical settings — are impressive.

Over the past 40 years, Waisman scientists have discovered some of the causes of autism, disclosed the genetic roots of rare neurodegenerative diseases, manufactured cell- and gene-based pharmaceuticals to cure diseases, found ways to use medical imaging to "see" the brains of people with autism, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and other disorders, discovered how infants learn language and even shown how meditation can change the brain.

Its team of stem cell scientists has discovered how those basic building blocks can be turned into different types of brain cells that are lost due to the ravages of certain neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's, macular degeneration and Lou Gehrig's disease.

Since opening in 1973, the Waisman Center has provided clinical services to more than 160,000 children and adults, trained 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students and, more recently, operated a biomanufacturing center that helps emerging companies in the region develop tomorrow's drugs.

"It is one of the main institutions in our community and state that contribute to scientific discovery while also providing hope for people of all ages and their families," said Marsha Mailick, the Waisman Center's director.

Waisman's biomanufacturing center is an example of how research leads to economic growth. The state-of-the art cleanroom facility provides manufacturing and testing services for a broad range of pharmaceuticals and biotherapeutics in their test phases.

It's an important link between researchers and moving cures and diagnostics to the market. Since opening in 2001, the biomanufacturing center has manufactured more than 300 clinical-grade products.

Because the brain is one of the last frontiers of medical science, much work remains to be done at Waisman and similar centers. What Mailick describes as the "epidemic" of autism is a focus for some of its researchers. Some are examining how Fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition found most often in boys, is a pathway to autism. Down syndrome and Alexander disease are among other major study areas.

As the Waisman Center moves toward a series of anniversary seminars and celebrations in the fall, tens of thousands of people in Wisconsin and well beyond can quietly appreciate how its work has touched and even transformed lives. As President Kennedy noted in his telegram to Harrington, the "vast field" of development disabilities remains precisely that — vast.


Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council and former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal. Email: tstill@wisconsintechnologycouncil.com.

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. amdachel
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    amdachel - February 10, 2013 3:23 pm
    "Over the past 40 years, Waisman scientists have discovered some of the causes of autism."
    Information from the Waisman Center published in January 2012 http://www.waisman.wisc.edu/news/stories/2012/Waisman.1.30.12.html reported that researcher Maureen Durkin "identified higher socioeconomic status as a risk factor" for autism. Also on the list were "advanced maternal and paternal ages, and earlier birth order."

    The truth is autism now affects one in every 88 children, one in every 54 boys. The exponential increase in the number of affected children makes autism an epidemic among our children. Are we to believe that lifestyle factors like higher income, higher education, older moms, older dads and having babies too close together are responsible for neurological damage in children?

    Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism
  2. amdachel
    Report Abuse
    amdachel - February 10, 2013 3:23 pm

    The Waisman report http://www.waisman.wisc.edu/news/stories/2012/Waisman.1.30.12.html
    from Jan 2012 reported that "the causes of autism and its rising prevalence are the subjects of debate." That may have a reference to the most heated debate in medicine, namely that the ever-expanding vaccine schedule is linked to the skyrocketing rates of autism and other neuro-developmental disorders.

    This link shows the dramatic increase in the number of vaccines on the childhood schedule from 1983 to 2012-all this without a single study on the cumulative effect of so many shots, so soon, on the health of a baby.
    http://www.drmomma.org/2011/01/cdc-mandatory-vaccine-schedule-1983-vs.html

    Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism
  3. amdachel
    Report Abuse
    amdachel - February 10, 2013 3:22 pm
    If anyone is interested in INDEPENDENT RESEARCH on vaccines and their side effects they have only to look at the website for the new film, "The Greater Good," (See trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulmEGbwQsOU.) which explores the question of vaccine safety from both sides.
    There are over 200 studies that raise serious concerns about vaccine side effects. http://www.greatergoodmovie.org/learn-more/science/
    And it isn't just autism. Vaccines are linked to lots of chronic conditions that used to be rare in children: things like diabetes, severe allergies, asthma, seizure disorders, sleep disorders, bowel disease, childhood cancers, and many more conditions.
    Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism
  4. amdachel
    Report Abuse
    amdachel - February 10, 2013 3:22 pm
    CBS News ran this story about Hannah Poling in 2010: Family to Receive $1.5M+ in First-Ever Vaccine-Autism Court Award.
    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31727_162-20015982-10391695.html
    Are we expected to believe that vaccines don’t cause autism----unless you’re Hannah Poling?
    Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism
  5. amdachel
    Report Abuse
    amdachel - February 10, 2013 3:21 pm
    "Over the past 40 years, Waisman scientists have discovered some of the causes of autism."

    HDNet TV exposed the fact that while health officials continue to tell us studies show no link, the federal government has paid out millions of dollars for compensation for vaccine injuries that included autism. Seeing these children who were born healthy and were suddenly and dramatically affected by their vaccinations should give us all pause.
    http://www.omsj.org/corruption/vaccines-autism-mixed-signals
    http://www.ebcala.org/areas-of-law/vaccine-law/transcript-of-vaccines-autism-mixed-signals
    Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism
  6. amdachel
    Report Abuse
    amdachel - February 10, 2013 3:21 pm
    "Over the past 40 years, Waisman scientists have discovered some of the causes of autism."

    In Jan 2013, the Daily Mail, a major paper in Britain covered the story: "American parents awarded £600,000 in compensation after their son developed autism as a result of MMR vaccine." http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2262534/American-parents-awarded-600-000-compensation-son-developed-autism-result-MMR-vaccine.html?ito=feeds-newsxml
    No major news outlet in the U.S. has reported the news.
    Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism
  7. amdachel
    Report Abuse
    amdachel - February 10, 2013 2:58 pm
    "Over the past 40 years, Waisman scientists have discovered some of the causes of autism."

    Would that also include the thousands of parents who report that their children were born healthy and was developing normally until they received certain routine vaccinations? After being vaccinated these children changed, lost learned skills and regressed into autism. Doctors can’t explain this. They only thing they have are lots of studies, all tied to the vaccine makers, showing no link between vaccines and autism.

    Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism
  8. amdachel
    Report Abuse
    amdachel - February 10, 2013 2:52 pm
    "Over the past 40 years, Waisman scientists have discovered some of the causes of autism."

    The U.S. Court of Claims has compensated the parents of two more children because of vaccine injuries that included autism.

    http://www.uscfc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/CAMPBELL-SMITH.MOJABI-PROFFER.12.13.2012.pdf
    http://www.ageofautism.com/2013/01/breaking-news-us-vaccine-court-awards-millions-for-2-autism-diagnosis-cases.html

    Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism

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