Enacting Isaac Wistar’s vision and legacy, The Wistar Institute continues its history of groundbreaking research aimed at improving human health.
Launch of BTT Program
In collaboration with the Community College of Philadelphia, Wistar launched a two-year training program to prepare college students for a career as research technicians. The program, which was the first of its kind and continues to present day, was started by William H. Wunner, Ph.D., Wistar’s director of Academic Affairs and director of Outreach Education and Technology Training. Another goal of the BTT program is to bring more diversity to science: more than half of the graduates are minorities and seven out of 10 are women.
Throughout the 2000s, Wistar scientists made seminal discoveries in the field of epigenetics and RNA transcription, contributing new knowledge on the role of histone modifications in gene regulation and DNA repair and how different RNA species, including microRNAs (miRNA) and long noncoding RNAs (lncRNA), are generated and how they regulate gene transcription.
During his tenure, which began in 2002, Russel Kaufman, M.D., embarked on strategic planning and faculty recruitment, and fostered collaborations with regional academic and life sciences industry partners. Dr. Kaufman guided the Institute through its $35 million capital campaign, “Building Wistar, Changing the World,” which began in 2010 and supported the building of the Fox Tower and has substantially raised Wistar’s endowments. Dr. Kaufman stepped down as president and CEO in 2015.
The FDA announced the licensing of the rotavirus vaccine developed collaboratively by Wistar, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Merck & Co., Inc. in the 1980s. The vaccine is sold as ROTATEQ® and is part of the recommended immunization schedule for infants 6 weeks to 32 weeks of age.
Launch of Vaccine Center
Wistar celebrates the launch of the Wistar Vaccine Center with Hildegund C.J. Ertl, M.D., as its first leader. Extending Wistar’s history of accomplishment in vaccine development, the new Vaccine Center was designed to draw upon the Institute’s strengths in immunology, virology, and other research disciplines to develop new vaccines for HIV, rabies, influenza, Hepatitis C, malaria and other infectious diseases.
Emmanuel Skordalakes, Ph.D., was the first to decode the structure of the catalytic portion of telomerase, the enzyme that replicates DNA at the chromosome end (telomeres).
Launch of Melanoma Research Center
Wistar launched the The Wistar Melanoma Research Center under the direction of Meenhard Herlyn, D.V.M., D.Sc., in an effort to fast track basic research that could lead to defining new therapies. The Center would represent a hub to connect scientists and physicians at universities, research institutions, medical centers, and pharmaceutical companies.
Cancer biologist Dario C. Altieri, M.D., was appointed director of the Wistar Cancer Center, which he expanded by recruiting a “critical mass” of multidisciplinary researchers. In 2015, Dr. Altieri became president and CEO of the Institute while retaining his role as director of the Cancer Center. Dr. Altieri also leads a research program that studies how tumor cells evade programmed cell death and the role of mitochondria, power plant of the cells, in tumor metabolism.
Robert & Penny Fox Tower
The Robert and Penny Fox Research Tower opened its doors. The new addition adds nearly 90,000 square feet of cutting-edge laboratory space to the Institute, allowing a more integrated style of research and reflecting the contemporary “team science” discovery approach.
A new generation DNA-based vaccine against Zika virus showed protection from infection, brain damage and death in a preclinical model. The vaccine was discovered by David B. Weiner, Ph.D., new director of the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center and Wistar’s executive vice president, and his collaborators at Wistar and partner institutions. The same year, the FDA approved the start of the first human clinical trial of this vaccine that demonstrated its safety and efficacy at inducing an immune response against the virus.
Tumor Immunology Discoveries
In 2016, Dmitry I. Gabrilovich, M.D., Ph.D., and his research team identified a marker for myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs), a population of immune cells implicated in tumor resistance to various types of cancer treatment, including targeted therapies, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. The new marker has a potential clinical impact as it could be used to help direct treatment decisions and to target MDSCs for therapeutic benefit.
Launch of BRT Apprenticeship
Wistar’s Biomedical Research Technician (BRT) Apprenticeship is the first-ever registered, nontraditional apprenticeship program for biomedical research ratified by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. The apprenticeship offers apprentices a career pathway to becoming biomedical research technicians in a research laboratory environment and is an extension of the Institute’s Biomedical Technician Training Program.
Helen Dean King Award Ceremony
Wistar’s Women & Science Program launched the Helen Dean King Award to honor prestigious scholars who have made groundbreaking contributions to biomedical research and cracked the science glass ceiling. Named after Dr. Helen Dean King, a well-respected geneticist and the first female scientist to work at Wistar in the early 1900s, the award is a testament to her and all women in science.
The Wistar Institute celebrated 125 years of research discoveries and breakthroughs. A series of events held throughout the year commemorated Wistar science and acknowledged its community of supporters. The same year, the Wistar family celebrated the 300th anniversary of the arrival of their ancestor to Philadelphia from Germany.
Caspar Wistar Fellowship
The Caspar Wistar Fellows Program was launched to provide recent Ph.D. or M.D. graduates with exceptional support and resources to pursue an accelerated path as independent principal investigators and join the next generation of scientific leaders. Rahul S. Shinde, D.V.M., Ph.D., joined as the inaugural Caspar Wistar Fellow.
Wistar’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Shortly after the SARS-CoV-2 virus began spreading across the globe, Wistar scientists undertook major research efforts to advance vaccines and other solutions for COVID-19. Supported by positive results from preclinical testing, a DNA-based vaccine co-developed by the Weiner lab and collaborators advanced to phase 1 clinical testing in 10 weeks.
The Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center
Wistar announces the renaming of renowned Cancer Center to the Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center of The Wistar Institute, following a $10 million donation to support our scientists’ high-impact discoveries toward promising cancer therapies. Celebrating 50 years of National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation, Wistar will be among the nation’s first named NCI-designated basic research cancer centers.
Most Admired CEO Award
The Philadelphia Business Journal names Wistar President and CEO Dr. Dario C. Altieri as one of the Most Admired CEOs of 2023, recognizing his steadfast commitment to excellence in scientific research; fostering a culture of collaboration and innovation.