Renowned expert in infectious diseases returns to KU as newest Foundation Professor
LAWRENCE — After earning his doctorate from the University of Kansas in 1989, William Picking left Lawrence to begin an outstanding career in research and academics. He returned to Lawrence in 1999 to serve 10 years on the faculty before becoming chair of microbiology and genetics at Oklahoma State University. Now he is returning to Lawrence once more as KU’s third Foundation Distinguished Professor, one of only 12 such eminent scholars who will earn the title.
Picking will join KU on June 2 as Foundation Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and he will take the lead in establishing a Kansas Vaccine Development Center. The center will build on KU’s increasingly important role in developing vaccines, including the existing Macromolecule and Vaccine Stabilization Center, to facilitate the invention of human and veterinary vaccines and ensure translation of those discoveries into vaccine candidates and human clinical trials.
“The university was looking for a leader with the research expertise and reputation to advance KU to a true leadership position in the development of vaccines for infectious diseases, and Bill Picking is the ideal fit,” said Jeffrey S. Vitter, provost and executive vice chancellor. “Foundation Professors are expected to advance our strategic initiative themes and collaborate across existing strengths, and there is no question Professor Picking will excel at each. He will play a key role in helping us promote well-being and build healthy communities across our state, our nation and our world.”
Picking is acknowledged as one of the top authorities on virulence, and in particular, Type III secretion systems. He has made major advances in the study of the pathogenesis of Shigella, disease-causing bacteria that are a major problem in the developing world. The Kansas Vaccine Development Center will seek to build on Picking’s renowned work in this area to develop specific vaccines built on his research on Shigella as well as Salmonella and Yersinia.
As department head at Oklahoma State University, Picking has overseen a tripling of undergraduate enrollment in five years, an elevation of departmental per-faculty funding to No. 1 in the College of Arts and Sciences, and a significant increase in graduate students enrolled and graduate student funding. He has received numerous professional and teaching awards, including a 2006 Kemper Teaching Award at KU.
“This new center will allow me and other researchers to move beyond basic research and into disease prevention and outcomes, and I welcome the opportunity to lead that effort,” said Picking. “By partnering with areas across KU who are committed to finding cures, we can turn basic research into new vaccines and have a real benefit, particularly for children throughout the world. On the personal side, KU is where I met my wife, Wendy, as a teammate on a graduate school softball team almost 30 years ago. She has been my partner in life and in science, and we are both excited to return to Lawrence.”
Wendy Picking is joining KU as a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry. Wendy Picking’s work is widely recognized, and she has frequently been credited for her commitment to interdisciplinary research. Her research interests will contribute to the Kansas Vaccine Development Center. Wendy Picking will join the KU faculty in August.
Wendy Picking earned her bachelor's degree in biochemistry at KU, then her doctorate in biochemistry/genetics through the university in 1990. She returned to KU in 1999 as a research associate for KU, then became a research assistant professor, then research associate professor, for Higuchi Bioscience Center before departing for Oklahoma State University in 2009.
“Bill and Wendy Picking will join nationally recognized vaccine experts like C. Russell Middaugh and David Volkin to form an unmatched vaccine research team,” said Ken Audus, dean of the School of Pharmacy. “The School of Pharmacy is already one of the top schools in the country, and the addition of Professor Picking as the director of our new Kansas Vaccine Development Center will enhance that reputation. In addition, the new center will provide fertile ground for collaboration with the biosciences sector in our region.”
William Picking earned a bachelor’s from Kansas State University in 1984 and his doctorate from KU in 1989. He completed postdoctoral research at the University of Texas prior to joining the faculty at St. Louis University in 1992. In addition to serving on the faculty at KU from 1999-2009, he served as associate director of academic affairs at the Higuchi Biosciences Center from 2007-2009.
KU’s Foundation Professor initiative is a unique partnership between the university and the state of Kansas to attract eminent faculty members to support one of the university’s four strategic initiative themes. Picking is the third of 12 such eminent scholars who will join KU. In his role as Foundation Distinguished Professor, Picking will play a leadership role in advancing two of KU’s strategic initiative themes: Promoting Well-Being, Finding Cures, and Building Communities, Expanding Opportunities.