Tuesday, December 23, 2008

UA losing major bioscience researcher

[Source: Aaron Mackey, ARizona Daily Star] - The leader of the UA's top research institute — whom colleagues hail as a key architect of the region's burgeoning bioscience industry — is leaving to head a San Francisco-based non-profit's scientific endeavors, the university announced Monday.

Vicki Chandler, director of the University of Arizona's Bio5 Institute, played a critical role in establishing the collaborative research center, which has brought tens of millions of grant dollars to the UA, including a $50 million award thought to be the largest grant in Arizona history.
The second high-profile professor with ties to Bio5 to leave the UA this year, Chandler will become chief program officer for the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation's science efforts in February.

In July, Bio5 founder Thomas Baldwin left the UA to become dean of UC-Riverside's College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. Baldwin founded the program, which at the time was known as the Institute for Biomedical Science and Biotechnology, in 2001.

Besides being one of the UA's premier scientists, Chandler has become a regional ambassador for bioscience research, lobbying for state money to build research facilities while striving to tell the public about the importance of the work.

"She had a vision for Bio5 that was about much more than just scientific research," said Leslie Tolbert, the UA's vice president for research. "She has an enthusiasm for outreach and the role a university can play in community development."

Taking over Bio5 in 2002, Chandler led several efforts that culminated in the UA's landing a $50 million grant in January to establish the iPlant Collaborative, a research program aimed at unlocking the secrets of plant biology. That alone accounted for roughly 10 percent of the UA's overall $500 million research budget.

The project, co-led by Chandler, was seeded by state support in research funding and new buildings — both of which Chandler lobbied for, Tolbert said.

Chandler "has been a strong spokesperson with the Legislature and with private donors as well," Tolbert said. "She gets them to see that it isn't just about the institute in the abstract, but the people doing the science and getting results."

The Bio5 Institute is the UA's most prominent interdisciplinary research center, blending researchers from five fields —agriculture, medicine, pharmacy, basic science and engineering — with industry leaders to find solutions to common problems, such as disease.

The institute has been a pipeline for grants and also has proved successful at creating a number of spin-off companies that use technologies developed in UA laboratories.

Managing the complex relationships between business leaders and researchers, Chandler was integral in convincing several bioscience companies to either expand in or move to Tucson, said Joe Snell, president and CEO of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc.

"Her leadership has been incredibly valuable in helping to position Tucson as the next bioscience hub," he said.

"I don't think we would be where we're at or where we're going without her efforts."

Chandler also has helped build interest in science among high school students and UA undergraduates. She holds summer programs that get high schoolers in laboratories with researchers and often touts how half the Bio5 researchers are undergrads.

She also has narrated the UA-produced PBS show "WaveLengths," which provides a 30-minute snapshot of some of the research produced on campus.

On top of that, Chandler maintains a full-time lab and conducts field research as a Regents Professor in both the plant science and molecular and cellular biology departments. She also holds the Weiler Endowed Chair for Excellence in Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Chandler, who has been at the UA since 1997, said she has mixed emotions about her new role.
"It's always exciting to take on a new challenge, but I poured my heart and soul into the University of Arizona and really care deeply for it," she said.

The move will take her back to her roots. She grew up in Northern California and studied at the University of California-Berkeley and UC-San Francisco while later working at Stanford after earning her Ph.D.

The foundation she is joining invests $300 million each year in projects, including science and environmental conservation research around San Francisco.

Even with her new job, Chandler will be in Tucson often. She plans to retain her endowed chair and conduct research as part of the iPlant Collaborative, a process she says will take up about 20 percent of her time.

"The university has been incredibly gracious to allow me to continue to research," she said. "By keeping my feet squarely planted in science, it will hopefully help me in my new position."

The UA will name an interim director of Bio5 early next year and plans to conduct a national search for a permanent replacement, Tolbert said.

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