Waisman Center director search advances as interim leadership is named

Natasha Kassulke


Albee Messing
Albee Messing, VMD, PhD

Albee Messing, University of Wisconsin–Madison professor of comparative biosciences, will retire as director of the Waisman Center Jan. 2, 2018.  Interim leadership and four director finalists have been named.

“Dr. Messing has been an outstanding director of this center since his appointment in 2015. He is both a superb scientist and has been a strong leader across this center’s multifaceted mission,” says Norman Drinkwater, UW–Madison associate vice chancellor for research in biological sciences.

William E. MacLean, PhDWilliam MacLean, associate director of Waisman’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, will be the interim Waisman Center director. Qiang Chang, associate professor of genetics and neurology and associate director of the Waisman Center’s Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center, will be the principal investigator for the Waisman Center core grant awarded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U54 HD090256) and interim director of the IDDRC. Both are longstanding members of the center’s leadership team. MacLean will report to the vice chancellor for research and graduate education.

A 10-member search and screen committee was chaired by Bradley Christian, director of PET physics at the Waisman Brain Imaging Lab, associate professor of medical physics and psychiatry, and member of the Waisman Center Executive Committee. The search for director is expected to be completed by April 1. Finalists for the position are:

Qiang Chang, associate professor in the University of Wisconsin–Madison departments of Medical Genetics and Neurology, and associate director of the Waisman Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center. His research is aimed at understanding the molecular mechanism of Rett syndrome, an autism spectrum developmental disorder, and DNA methylation dependent epigenetic regulation of mammalian brain development and function. Chang’s Ph.D. is from the University of Pennsylvania.

Katherine Hustad, professor in UW–Madison’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and chair of the department since 2016. Her research focuses on characterizing changes in speech production, speech intelligibility, language, cognition, and functional communication abilities among children with cerebral palsy beginning at the age of 18 months and continuing through adolescence (and ultimately through adulthood). Hustad’s doctorate is from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Ruth Litovsky, also a professor in UW–Madison’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, with a joint appointment in the Department of Surgery, Division of Otolaryngology. Litovsky’s research areas include auditory neuroscience, engineering and signal processing in acoustics and cochlear implants, cognitive impairment and auditory processing in Alzheimer’s disease, and functional brain mapping and neuroimaging using near infrared spectroscopy. Litovsky’s Ph.D. is from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Steven Small, professor of neurology, neurobiology and behavior, and cognitive sciences at the University of California, Irvine. He was chair of the Department of Neurology from 2010-17 and recently became the chief scientific officer of the Medical Innovations Institute. His research focuses on the anatomy and physiology of the human brain and its relation to function by direct investigation of human subjects, particularly in speech and language. This work has encompassed the study of typically developing adults and children, and adults with neurological disease (especially stroke).  Small’s Ph.D. is from the University of Maryland, and his MD is from the University of Rochester.

Interviews and campus visits for the finalists are being scheduled for early 2018.

“I am looking forward to the next step in the process in choosing a new director, and I am very grateful to Bill MacLean and Qiang Chang for their leadership in the interim. I am also especially thankful for the work of the director search committee and committee chair Bradley Christian,” says Marsha Mailick, vice chancellor for research and graduate education.

“The Waisman Center is one of our campus’s premier interdisciplinary translational research centers, and has served our university, the state of Wisconsin and our nation in its excellence in research, training and outreach in the field of developmental disabilities for the past 45 years.”

“The Waisman Center director position generated a very strong level of interest that yielded a diverse group of talented applicants from UW–Madison, national and international institutions,” says Christian. “The search committee is deeply committed to the continual success of the Waisman Center and is confident it will continue to flourish under new leadership based upon this pool of finalists.”

The Waisman Center is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge about human development, developmental disabilities and neurodegenerative diseases throughout the lifespan. The center is one of 14 nationally and one of the few to encompass both an Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center and a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.

The Waisman Center provides an interdisciplinary research environment for over 40 resident faculty representing 20 academic departments at UW–Madison and approximately 650 faculty, staff, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Its clinics support programs that serve more than 4,000 people with developmental disabilities each year from throughout the world.

The story was first published on UW News website.