After advocating heavily to allow stem cell research in the state of Michigan, Sean Morrison — one of the University’s top stem cell researchers and director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology — is stepping down from his position at the University to pursue a job at the University of Texas–Southwestern this fall.
Morrison, who strongly supported the Proposal 2 referendum campaign in 2008 that allowed scientists to conduct research on embryonic stem cells in the state, said he valued his time at the University and is looking forward to a new opportunity to continue conducting research.
“The real reason for me leaving is that I just got an offer I couldn’t refuse from the University of Texas-Southwestern medical school,” Morrison said.
Morrison said he doubted that his departure would drastically affect stem cell research at the University, adding that there are many reputable people at the University who will continue to facilitate his research initiatives.
“The University of Michigan is a big place with a lot of terrific people,” Morrison said. “So the University will recover just fine from my leaving and pretty soon no one will notice I’m gone.”
He added that he believes stem cell research will continue to thrive without him, especially with the strong team of researchers that was recruited after Proposal 2 passed.
“We were successful in protecting embryonic stem cell research in the state constitution, and I recruited a number of stem cell biologists to the (University) who will keep right on going without me, and I think the University will continue to recruit stem cell biologists who will do good work,” he said.
According to Alan Saltiel, Director of the Life Sciences Institute, Morrison began working at the University in 1999 as an associate professor and quickly established himself as prominent scientist with his research of adult stem cells.
“He’s been very successful, he’s one of a number of outstanding scientists who came here and really made a name for themselves in their field,” Saltiel said. “I think he really belongs in the top tier of young scientists that we’ve grown at the University so we’ll miss him.”
Saltiel said that while no one has specifically been hired to replace Morrison, the Life Sciences Institute will continue to recruit stem cell scientists.
“It doesn’t work that way in our world, where you just replace a faculty member when they leaves, we’re always replenishing and hiring new people,” Saltiel said.
James Shayman, associate vice president for research of health sciences at the University, said faculty members tried to persuade Morrison to stay, but that he had already made his decision.
“There was an effort to retain him, this occurred at all levels of the University from his department to the Life Sciences Institute and the president’s office — it was not for lack of effort that he’s leaving,” he said.
Morrison’s loss will be felt due to his significant contributions to the field and the University, Shayman said.
“We view Sean as an outstanding investigator we will be really sorry to see him leaving because he has made significant contributions to the stem cell field and brought dramatic growth at the University of Michigan and we wish him the best of luck in his new position,” he said.
Shayman echoed Morrison’s sentiment that despite his departure, there remain strong researchers in embryonic and cancer stem cell research at the University who will continue to make strides in the scientific community.
Eva Feldman, a colleague of Morrison’s and director of the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, said she is disappointed that Morrison will be leaving but understands that the University of Texas–Southwestern presents him with a new opportunity.
“He is going to join an institute where he is being given funding to expand and grow his program in a very positive and interesting way,” Feldman said. “I think we all understand that different opportunities and challenges occur, and he’s elected to take this one.”
Feldman said it is characteristic of large biomedical enterprises to rely on the work of several individuals rather than one, and that she believes the University will collectively continue to be a major figure in adult stem cell research.
“While Dr. Morrison’s leaving of course disappoints all of us in the biomedical research enterprise here, the biomedical research enterprise here at the University of Michigan is very robust, vigorous, healthy and will continue to move forward in a very positive way,” she said.