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Innovate and Collaborate: The Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research

The Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research (WIMR) embrace a new way of doing science. In this new mode, traditional research silos become obsolete, as basic, translational and clinical scientists — in cancer, imaging and surgery — work together to move discoveries quickly from bench to bedside and into the community. Opening in September 2008, the soaring, seven-floor East Tower is the first of WIMR's three interdisciplinary research towers that will also house cardiovascular, neuroscience and regenerative medicine research.
 
WIMR was born more than a decade ago, in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health's vision of a center to encourage scientific collaboration and combine clinical and basic research talents to tackle medicine's most perplexing and significant questions. That vision was forged through multiple work groups, drawing on the creativity and inspiration of campus-wide faculty and staff and partners from outside the University. University of Wisconsin assistant professor of orthopedics Wan-Ju Li's research involves taking adult stem cells and growing them into cartilage in the lab. Someday, these custom-engineered tissues may heal knees destroyed by sports injuries and joints riddled with arthritis.
 
But to quickly get his research from the lab to the people who need it, Li needs collaboration from colleagues ranging from cell biologists to engineers to transplant and orthopedic surgeons. The highlyrecruited Li, who arrived last winter from the National Institutes of Health, says WIMR is one reason he chose Wisconsin over other institutions.
 
"This is the reason I want to work here," says Li. "I can see the collaboration is already happening for my lab. When I need bone marrow [from which to isolate adult stem cells], I can just talk to my colleagues next door." The East Tower, with floors the length of a football field, eliminates laboratory walls, places office areas close to labs, allows rapid sharing of complex equipment and facilities, and includes interactive space on every floor. Alternate floors are also joined by two-story atriums to further enhance communication and collaboration.
 
As a neighbor of the UW Health Sciences Learning Center and the UW Schools of Pharmacy and Nursing, WIMR is well positioned for collaboration with health sciences colleagues. And adjacent to UW Hospital and Clinics and American Family Children's Hospital, WIMR scientists can easily interact with practicing clinicians and the patients whose lives they hope to improve.