The University Record, February 22, 1999

Report of the Commission on Life Sciences

Roush urges quick action, pleased with ‘product’

The need to act quickly on implementing the initiatives was emphasized by William R. Roush, Commission co-chair and the Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Chemistry.

“We’re all unanimous that taking action on the proposals has to be immediate if possible, Roush said. “Other institutions across the country are already doing or proposing various aspects of this venture. From the standpoint of recruiting, people with the expertise we need are in high demand and short supply.

“The University needs to decide what it wants to implement and then go for it. It is critical to get going soon rather than later.”

While the Commission’s recommendations include new physical facilities, Roush said there’s no need to wait until they are constructed to begin a vigorous recruiting campaign.

“You presume there will be space on campus [for the new scientists]. There isn’t enough immediately available for all the proposed new hires, but recruiting and construction can be done in parallel. The Commission did consider this,” Roush added, “but we feel we cannot afford to wait to begin the recruiting effort until the new structures are in place. The newly recruited faculty can be housed in their academic departments or in shared space among departments.

Roush said the Commission looked broadly at the fields that currently are identified as life sciences and assessed where the best opportunities lie.

“Each member brought to the table their own conception of what these initiatives might include and five areas crystallized. Two are very cross-cutting and will impinge on anything any life scientist would like to do.

“The Biotechnology and Translational Research Initiative will develop new tools and techniques for use in all the initiatives. Advances in technology will push our ability to make advances in the basic and applied life sciences.

The Biocomplexity Initiative, also cross-cutting, was selected “because the University has historic and current strengths in this area. A challenge for those working on this initiative will be to determine what will be the big questions tomorrow. The Michigan Workshops would bring people from various fields to campus to interact with those working on the initiatives, to identify the big picture and fruitful areas that might be pursued.

“Overall,” Roush added, “the elements of the first two initiatives interface with a tremendous amount of what is already going on on campus. The Commission tried to create proposals that would link intellectually the three main campuses, Central, Medical and North. The University can leverage strengths in all three areas.”

Roush noted that the thrust of the Genomics and Complex Genetics Initiative is not to determine the structure of genomes, but rather to use this information to help us understand the interactions of gene products and complex diseases. Work in genetics, Roush noted, “is absolutely essential to furthering our understanding of the life sciences. We absolutely need to have additional focused effort in this area.”

The other two targeted initiatives—Chemical and Structural Biology and Cognitive Neuroscience—also build on current strengths.

The Chemical and Structural Biology Initiative builds on traditional strengths in the Medical School, LS&A, the College of Pharmacy and the Biophysics Research Division.

“The Commission frequently spoke of linking peaks of excellence,” Roush explained. “That is easy to do in this initiative, because there already are pieces that have linked. Michigan could be on the map in a big way” under this initiative.

Roush is delighted with the report. “We were a broad-based group of people. I’m delighted with the way the commission worked, maintaining professional standards and bringing high intellectual rigor to the discussions. We came initially with very different viewpoints and the report reflects the consensus that everyone reached. I’m pleased with our product.”


Click here to go to the Life Sciences report.