KU Foundation Professor succeeds Eli Michaelis as director of Higuchi Center

Tue, 09/02/2014

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Kevin Boatright
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LAWRENCE – A historic leadership transition is taking place at the Higuchi Biosciences Center (HBC) at the University of Kansas. After 25 years as director, Eli Michaelis, University Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, is stepping down from that role. He will continue his research on brain function, the nervous system and diseases of aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Michaelis’ successor is William Picking, Foundation Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Picking came to KU earlier this year from Oklahoma State University, where he was chair of microbiology and genetics. Prior to that he spent a decade at KU and was associate director of academic affairs at the HBC in 2007-09.

“It’s an honor to follow someone of Eli’s stature at the HBC,” Picking said. “Thanks to his commitment and strong leadership, it has been a great resource for biomedical science researchers across the entire KU system. I’m excited to now have an opportunity to guide the HBC research mission and to work with the high-quality current and future scientists who have a stake in the center. Collectively, we will forge ahead into new multidisciplinary research directions in support of KU’s Bold Aspirations strategic plan.”

Michaelis came to KU in 1973 as an assistant professor after receiving a doctorate in physiology and biophysics at the University of Kentucky School of Medicine.

“It’s an exciting time to be in my field of study,” he said. “Neuroscience research is a priority for the nation. KU’s bi-campus Alzheimer’s Disease Center is one of only 29 such centers in the U.S. designated and funded by the National Institute on Aging. I will remain director of one of its core components, and I look forward to continuing my research. I’m very happy Bill will be the new director, and I know he will greatly enhance the collaborative research that takes place within the Higuchi Biosciences Center.”

Michaelis is a former chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at KU. Among his honors, he was the 1992 recipient of an Higuchi-KU Endowment Research Achievement Award, the Dolph Simons Sr. Award for research excellence in the biomedical sciences.

Picking’s own research is focused on infectious diseases. He is taking the lead in establishing the Kansas Vaccine Institute at KU, part of a larger drug and vaccine discovery effort. That initiative is driven by KU research in the HBC and the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry. It is one of KU’s highest legislative priorities for the 2015 session. In July, the Kansas Board of Regents received a budget request from KU for $5 million in ongoing state funding in support of the Kansas Vaccine Institute and the associated Translational Chemical Biology Institute.

“We’re fortunate to have a researcher of Bill Picking’s caliber moving into the leadership role at the HBC,” said Mary Lee Hummert, interim vice chancellor for research. “The center grew in stature nationally under Eli, going from $1 million in grant funding in 1989 to more than $28 million in 2013. In a highly competitive environment, 90 percent of that funding comes from the National Institutes of Health. We are grateful to Eli for his years of service.” 



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