For the third time before the Life Sciences Institute has even opened its doors, the University has selected new leadership for the research initiative rising along Washtenaw Avenue. Alan Saltiel will likely be approved as director of the LSI, alongside six “charter faculty,” at today’s meeting of the University Board of Regents.

Paul Wong
Saltiel

“I am excited. It is a great challenge, but also a great opportunity for me to have a major impact,” Saltiel said.

Saltiel follows Jack Dixon and Scott Emr, who were originally slated to serve as co-directors of the LSI. Emr left before he arrived because of uncertainty after former President Lee Bollinger resigned to become president at Columbia University. Early this summer, Dixon announced he would leave the University to become dean of scientific affairs at the University of California at San Diego. Former Deputy General Counsel Liz Barry has ben serving as managing director of the LSI since January.

University President Mary Sue Coleman consulted with Dixon during the search for a new director. She said she chose to hire from within the University after Dixon showed her what Saltiel could “bring to the table” as a highly regarded researcher.

“I am extremely happy because (Saltiel) is a very distinguished scientist, and with this charter faculty, I think they are going to give us the jumpstart we needed,” Coleman said.

“I think it is a tremendous asset to heave someone from the inside because they can hit the ground running,” Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R-Ann Arbor) said. She said she plans to vote in favor of Saltiel’s appointment.

“He will be setting the scientific direction of the institute, administering and developing its resources, helping with education, research, outreach and building links to the other academic departments in the University,” she said.

Saltiel has spent most of his career doing private sector pharmaceutical research. Most recently, he was the senior director of cell biology at the Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Research Division in Ann Arbor. Most of his research has focused on uncovering how insulin controls cellular sugar levels, but this research has emerged into a study of cell signaling. In 1995 he co-authored a paper on cell signaling which remains the most cited paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In March 2001, he was appointed the first faculty member of the LSI.

Saltiel, who will earn $270,000 a year, said it will be difficult to continue this research while serving as director of the LSI, but he plans to ensure that his lab continues to move forward.

“I think it is impossible to be a director without doing research yourself because you (would) lose touch with the critical issues in science,” he said.

While at Parke-Davis, Saltiel had to work to coordinate researchers trained in different disciplines. Barry, who has worked with Saltiel since her appointment to the institute, counted this experience as one of his strong qualifications to take this administrative position.

“I have been working closely with Alan since I came on board and I am extremely impressed with his leadership abilities,” she said. “I think he is going to ensure that the institute is a success. He is an experienced leader in the private sector, and he has led multi-discipline science teams. So that experience will certainly benefit us.”

Construction of the Life Sciences Institute is expected to be completed in fall 2003. The $100 million facility is part of the $700 million Life Sciences Initiative that will allow scientific collaboration between researchers of various disciplines.

“The institute is really a different kind of approach to science because of the idea we will house, in a single unit, scientists from different fields. The idea that they are in proximity to each other could help solve important problems,” Saltiel said. “It will allow us to make the kind of advances that are not ordinarily made.”

Saltiel said he would work to recruit scientists from the top levels of many different disciplines.

The first of these scientists are six “charter faculty” who will help to form the direction of the Institute. They include chemistry Prof. Carol Fierke, genetics and internal medicine Prof. David Ginsburg, chemistry Prof. Gary Glick, biology Prof. Daniel Klionsky, pathology Prof. John Lowe.

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