Milwaukee, Wis., June 5, 2018 – Two emerging scientists – one studying how the brain achieves 3D visual perception, the other studying how a protein’s composition influences its function – have received unrestricted funding from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to advance their research and their careers. The awards total $400,000.

University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty members Ari Rosenberg, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience in the School of Medicine and Public Health, and Philip Romero, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, have each received $200,000 grants through the Foundation’s competitive Shaw Scientist Program. The annual award supports early career investigators seeking innovative solutions in biochemistry, biological sciences and cancer research.

“Dorothy Shaw, whose generosity made this program possible, has left a tremendous legacy, not only by accelerating the work of stellar young researchers, but through biomedical advances – those discovered as well as those still to come – that her support has seeded,” said Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. “I congratulate this year’s recipients on their innovation in pursuit of knowledge.”

Harnessing brain’s process of perception

Ari.jpgDr. Rosenberg’s research recognizes that despite the noisy and ambiguous input received by the body’s eyes, ears and other sensory organs, people perceive the world accurately and precisely. Unlocking how the brain performs this transformation is a path to understanding neurological and neuro-developmental conditions, such as traumatic brain injury and autism.

Using multifaceted experimental and computational approaches, Dr. Rosenberg’s lab is quantifying the neural basis of robust perception to ultimately guide development of individualized treatments for brain disorders. It’s an approach whose potential is being realized because of the Shaw Scientist Award.

“Research funding today tends to favor studies that have a high chance of finding an unsurprising result, and discourages more speculative studies that might yield big gains,” Dr. Rosenberg said. “For a young scientist like myself, the Shaw Scientist Award eliminates such barriers, making it possible to pursue unexplored research avenues that might not otherwise see the light of day.”

Prior to receiving his Ph.D. from University of Chicago in 2009 and postdoctoral training at both Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine and Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Rosenberg earned his bachelor’s degree in 2004 from Honors College of Florida Atlantic University.

Using big data to understand biological systems

romero.jpgDr. Romero’s research is aimed at engineering proteins for broad applications in human health, industry and bioenergy. Using machine learning, the lab works to understand how natural proteins perform their biological functions and apply this information to engineer novel proteins with customized properties.

Some of the lab’s lines of exploration include projects that could lead to the design of new cancer drugs as well as new therapies that are effective against multidrug-resistant influenza.

“The Shaw Award will enable us to pursue new high-risk projects that wouldn't be supported by the standard funding agencies,” Dr. Romero said. “We're excited to think longer term about where our field is headed, and how we can make a huge impact on biological engineering.”

Dr. Romero earned his Ph.D. in 2012 from the California Institute of Technology, followed by postdoctoral training at University of California, San Francisco. He received his bachelor’s degree from Tulane University in 2004.

About the Shaw Scientist Award

The awards program started in 1982 thanks to a $4.3 million bequest from Dorothy Shaw, widow of James Shaw, a prominent Milwaukee attorney. In addition to $2 million in special grants, the Shaws’ fund has awarded about $14 million in grants to 75 scientists from UW-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee since its creation. An advisory panel with scientists representing major U.S. research institutions recommends the winners.

About the Greater Milwaukee Foundation

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is the region’s largest community foundation and was among the first established in the world. For more than a century, the Foundation has inspired philanthropy by connecting generous people to community needs that align with their interests. The Foundation was founded on the premise that generosity can unlock an individual’s potential and strengthen the community as a whole for everyone who lives here. We work in partnership with those who are committed to ensuring greater Milwaukee is a vibrant, economically thriving region that comprises welcoming and inclusive communities providing opportunity, prosperity and a high quality of life for all.

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