Ted Kennedy at Waisman precursor1963—Dedication of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Memorial Laboratories on the University of Wisconsin campus. The precursor to the Waisman Center, Harry A. Waisman, MD, PhD, was the research director of the laboratories, which were housed in the UW Orthopedic Children’s Hospital. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (below) attended the dedication.

1965—Selection of the University of Wisconsin by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) as one of the first two sites in the United States for the construction of a multidisciplinary center devoted to the study of human development and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

1968—With the passage of the Developmental Disabilities Act, the University of Wisconsin is selected as a site for a University Affiliated Facility, one of 10 initial programs. Today, there are 67 in the United States  that are now referred to as University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. These centers provide training, services, applied research, and outreach programs.

1970Clinical services were initiated in rental space near campus. Stanley Berlow, MD, was medical director of those clinics, which utilized—then, as today—a multidisciplinary team approach. The clinics moved to  the Waisman Center in 1973.

1973—Dedication of the Waisman Center, which was named for Harry A. Waisman, MD, PhD, a biochemist, pediatrician, and pioneer in intellectual and developmental disabilities research. Established a biomedical research unit at the Waisman Center, representing a new focal point for brain research on the UW-Madison campus. The first unit coordinator was Clinton N. Woolsey, MD, an acclaimed neuroscientist. He, along with Harry Waisman, was a driving force in the establishment of the Waisman Center.

Stray Cats1975—Initiated one of the first genetics counseling training programs in the United States – to this day, the  only one in the state of Wisconsin.

1975—The Friends of the Waisman Center was established by Harvey A. Stevens, PhD, the first program administrator of the Waisman Center. Stevens also initiated an international art collection.

1976—Established an international art collection by people with developmental disabilities, featuring more than 150 artworks from 15 countries.

1979—Established the Communication Aids and Systems Clinic (CASC) to provide state-of-the-art augmentative and alternative communication services. A joint venture with UW Hospital and Clinics, CASC was one of the first programs in the United States with this focus.

1979—Opened the Waisman Early Childhood Program, a model school for children with diverse developmental needs. Currently, the WECP is licensed for 100 children, with one-third of the enrollment reserved for children with developmental disabilities.

1982—Appointment of Terrence R. Dolan, PhD, as director of the Waisman Center. A professor in the Departments of Neurology and Psychology, Dolan broadened the center’s research programs in numerous areas and guided the planning and development of a major expansion of the Waisman Center. He was director for 20 years.

1983Larry Shriberg, PhD, developed Programs to Examine Phonetic and Phonologic Evaluation Records (PEPPER), the first computer program designed to categorize the various factors contributing to speech disorders and to identify useful therapies. Currently, PEPPER is used as a research tool in the quest for the genetic origins of childhood speech sound disorders.

1985—Jon F. Miller, PhD, developed the first edition of Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts (SALT), a new method for quickly analyzing speech and language – a standard for researchers and clinicians to this day.

1986—Initiated the Waisman Center Children’s Theatre, an outreach performance series for young children and their families that draws thousands of people to the Waisman Center each year.

1989—Jon A. Wolff, MD, discovered a highly successful strategy for gene transfer (naked DNA) that is the basis for many clinical trials of DNA vaccines and gene therapies.

Children's Theatre1989—Expanded community outreach and training programs in response to new Birth to 3 Early Intervention federal legislation.

1992—Initiated the Alvin L. Berman & Ruth Bleier Memorial Student Research Award, given by the Friends of the Waisman Center, commemorating the contributions of these Waisman Center scientists.

1994—Organized a Constituent Advisory Committee to formally solicit advice from individuals with developmental disabilities and their families regarding programs and services.

1995—The Waisman Center’s Trace Center, led by Gregg Vanderheiden, PhD, incorporated, for the first time, accessibility features into a PC-based system.

1995—Established the NICHD-funded Waisman Center Postdoctoral Training Program in Developmental Disabilities, an important initiative that expanded the Center’s commitment to advanced research training.

1996Jenny Saffran, PhD, demonstrated that infants can keep track of statistical properties of sounds to learn language.

Jenny Saffron lab1996Hill Goldsmith, PhD, established a statewide twins database, the first of its kind and a resource for multiple research projects related to behavioral genetics and early childhood development.

1996—Established the Board of Visitors, an external advisory group to the Waisman Center.

1997—Robin S. Chapman, PhD, provided new evidence that, in individuals with Down syndrome, language skills once thought to plateau in childhood continue to develop into adulthood.

1998—Established a Waisman Center community outreach site in central Madison dedicated to community training on the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities. This outreach site is a component of Waisman’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, led by associate director Dan Bier, MPA, MSW.

2000—Established the Waisman Resource Center, a statewide source of information and assistance for families and providers about children who have special health care needs.

2001Albee Messing, VMD, PhD, discovered the gene that causes Alexander disease.

2001—Len Abbeduto, PhD, provided new evidence that Down syndrome and fragile X syndrome are characterized by different language and cognitive profiles.

North Tower Addition2001—Completion of a $25 million addition, including the six-story William F. and Betty Jo Heckrodt Translational Research Tower and the Judith B. Ward Early Childhood Wing.

2001—Established the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, led by Richard Davidson, PhD, a dedicated facility for research on brain development and neurodegeneration.

2002—Awarded the faculty cluster, Translational Research and Neurodegenerative Diseases. The cluster now includes professors Su-Chun Zhang, MD, PhD, Qiang Chang, PhD, and Xinyu Zhao, PhD.

2002Ruth Litovsky, PhD, conducted the first test in the United States of a child with dual cochlear implants. Litovksy also patented a new test that assesses hearing in children in complex environments.

2002—Appointment of Marsha R. Mailick, PhD, as Waisman Center director. An international authority on families of people with developmental disabilities, Mailick’s research focuses on life course trajectories of developmental disabilities and the well-being of parents and siblings. Mailick is Vaughan Bascom and Elizabeth M. Boggs Professor of Social Work and Pediatrics.

2002Ruth Litovsky, PhD, conducted the first test in the United States of a child with dual cochlear implants. Litovksy also patented a new test that assesses hearing in children in complex environments.

2002—Arthur Reynolds, PhD, provided compelling new evidence from the Chicago Longitudinal Study that preschool programs have positive lifelong effects on high school graduation rates, prevention of delinquency, and self-sufficiency in adulthood.

Waisman Biomanufacturing2005—The Waisman Center’s cleanroom facility—Waisman Biomanufacturing—led by Derek Hei, PhD, partnered with the WiCell Research Institute and a team of UW investigators to establish the first NIH National Stem Cell Bank.

2005Su-Chun Zhang, MD, PhD, demonstrated that human embryonic stem cells can be coaxed into becoming spinal motor neurons that relay messages from the brain to the body, and midbrain dopamine neurons that coordinate movement.

2005—The Waisman Center was selected to lead one of seven Vanguard Centers to conduct the National Children’s Study, the largest long-term investigation of human health and development ever conducted in the United States. Maureen Durkin, PhD, DrPH, MPH, led the Wisconsin study.

2006Richard Davidson, PhD, and Kim Dalton, PhD, discovered a link between the size of a brain structure—the amygdala—and social deficits in autism.

2007—James Malter, MD, and Cara Westmark, PhD, discovered a link between the fragile X protein and Alzheimer’s disease, a finding that may lead to new treatments for both fragile X syndrome and Alzheimer’s.

2010—Research by Seth Pollak, PhD, and Christopher Coe, PhD, demonstrated that stressful experiences in early childhood (such as abuse, poverty, or living in an orphanage) can have long-term impacts on children’s health and immune function that persist well beyond the removal of the children from those environments.

2010—Opening of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, led by Richard Davidson, PhD, which conducts interdisciplinary research on attention, mindfulness, and other healthy qualities of mind.

2010—The Waisman Center was selected as one of five facilities nationwide to participate in the Production Assistance for Cellular Therapies (PACT) program. The PACT program is designed to develop cellular therapies and manufacture products that will aid investigators to transition research from basic science to clinical trials. The Waisman Center PACT Program is led by Derek Hei, PhD.

Stem Cells2010—Using diffusion tensor imaging, Andy Alexander, PhD, and Janet Lainhart, MD, developed new methods to help identify individuals with autism based on white matter connections within the brain. This study correctly identified individuals with autism 94% of the time.

2010—Research published by Marsha R. Mailick, PhD, and Jan Greenberg, PhD, based on their longitudinal study of 400 adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder, was cited among the key scientific accomplishments of 2010 by Autism Speaks.

2010—Tandem Press organized a six-month exhibit at the Dane County Regional Airport of the Harvey A. Stevens International Collection of Art by People with Developmental Disabilities. This display is a graphic reminder that artistic expression and talent can be viewed through many prisms.

2011Xinyu Zhao, PhD, discovered a connection between neurogenesis—the process of generating neurons—and learning deficits in mouse models of fragile X syndrome. Her findings suggest that promoting neurogenesis using stem cells may have therapeutic potential for people with fragile X syndrome and other neurological disorders.

2011David Gamm, MD, PhD, generated three-dimensional structures that are similar to those present at the earliest stages of retinal development, making them potentially valuable not only for studying how the human retina develops, but also how to keep it working in the face of disease.

Clinics2012—The Waisman Center and American Family Children’s Hospital partnered to open an interdisciplinary Down syndrome clinic designed to meet the needs of children with Down syndrome and their families.

2012—Richard Morse, MD, established an $11 million planned estate gift that will fund a multidisciplinary graduate student training program providing fellowships to 8-12 Waisman Center graduate students studying developmental psychopathology and developmental disabilities.

2012—Research by Jamie Hanson, a graduate student working with Seth Pollak, PhD, and Richard Davidson, PhD, indicated that stress may delay brain development and impact spatial working memory in children. Findings were based on lower test scores and brain scans that revealed smaller anterior cingulates—a portion of the prefrontal cortex that is believed to play a key role in spatial working memory—of children with greater exposure to stressful situations.

2012—The Waisman Center launched the Grandparents’ Network (GPN) to provide information and support to grandparents of children and adults with disabilities. Through monthly coffees and an annual Day with the Experts, GPN provides a context for grandparents and other family members to increase their understanding of developmental disabilities, learn how other families cope with the challenge of disability, and contribute expertise, wisdom, and experience.

2012—Research by Qiang Chang, PhD, demonstrated dynamic modification of the MeCP2 protein plays critical roles in regulating the development and function of the mammalian brain. His findings advance the understanding of how MeCP2 mutations cause Rett syndrome.

Grandparents2013Su-Chun Zhang, MD, PhD, transformed stem cells into nerve cells that helped mice regain the ability to learn and remember. This novel study is the first to show that human stem cells can successfully implant themselves in the brain and then ameliorate neurological deficits. The stem cells used in this study were derived from skin cells directly reprogrammed into neural cells, bypassing the induced pluripotent stem cell stage.

2013—The Waisman Center Clinics, in partnership with UW Health, expanded clinical services. With more than 6,700 patient visits each year, the Waisman Center’s 12 specialty clinics provide comprehensive clinical care, including assessment, diagnosis, treatment and support, to people with developmental disabilities and neurodegenerative diseases and their families.

2013—Using cells derived from skin samples of individuals with Down syndrome (DS), Anita Bhattacharyya, PhD, cultivated a line of DS brain cells. These cells provide insight about early brain development in individuals with DS and will potentially be used to test or design drugs to target symptoms of DS.

2014—Su-Chun Zhang, MD, PhD, pinpointed an error in protein formation that could be the root of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

2014—Two studies published by Seth Pollak, PhD, director of the Child Emotion Laboratory—in collaboration with John Svaren, PhD and Jamie Hanson, PhD—highlight the negative impact of chronic stress and abuse on the brain during childhood.

2015—Albee Messing, VMD, PhD, was named director of the Waisman Center. Messing is an international leader in research on Alexander disease—a progressive and usually fatal neurological disorder. In 2001, Messing and colleagues discovered the genetic basis for the disease.

2015—Su-Chun Zhang, MD, PhD, developed a new technique to “edit” or silence genes in human stem cells at any stage of development. This discovery has the potential to revolutionize biomedical research and provide unprecedented understanding of how stem cells function.

Autism Treatment Program2016—The Waisman Center is one of six institutions across the country to be awarded a SEED grant from the CDC to study factors that may put children at risk for autism spectrum disorders. Maureen Durkin, PhD, DrPH, will lead the Wisconsin study.

2016—The Jenni & Kyle Professorship in Novel Neurodevelopmental Diseases is established through the generosity of Sally Wilmeth and Terry Geurkink in memory of their children. Xinyu Zhao, PhD, is the first recipient of the endowed position.

2016—The Waisman Center Autism Treatment Programs open. Led by Molly Murphy, PhD, BCBA-D, these programs provide behavioral treatment to children and young adults with autism, and their parents.

2016—A pilot summer research training program for undergraduate students is established between Lawrence University and the Waisman Center. Three students participated in research with Ed Hubbard, PhD, Leann Smith Dawalt, PhD, and Kristin Shutts, PhD.

2017—Albee Messing, VMD, PhD, and Tracy Hagemann, PhD, reported promising results toward a treatment for Alexander disease (AxD). Using antisense oligonucleotides, they were able to lower levels of the protein GFAP, whose unregulated expression is known to cause AxD symptoms, in the brains of mouse models with the disease to levels at or even below mice without the disease. The treated mice also showed improvements in the molecular and physical symptoms of AxD.

2017—The Friends of the Waisman Center published Drawn to Art, a book that showcases art from the Stevens collection and shares the unique perspectives of artists of all abilities. The book includes a foreword by Timothy Shriver, PhD, son of the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, whose family has had a great impact on the history and mission of the center, as well as people affected by intellectual and developmental disabilities. Art from the book was featured in a two-month exhibit at the Chazen Museum of Art, May-July 2018, in conjunction with the book launch.

Qiang Chang, PhD

2018Qiang Chang, PhD, a professor of medical genetics and neurology, is selected as the next director of the Waisman Center. Chang joined the Waisman Center in 2007 as part of a translational neuroscience research cluster hire. He is an internationally renowned expert on the genetic underpinnings of Rett syndrome — a rare neurological disorder that primarily affects girls. Chang served as the director of the center’s Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center before assuming the director role.

2018Andy Alexander, PhD, developed a motion-correction strategy that can effectively correct artifacts in brain images caused by excess motion during MRI scans. The technique, called MPnRAGE, incorporates both low and high frequency information that compensates for movement made during MRI scans and maintains the usability of the resulting images. This strategy will enhance the ability to do neuroimaging studies with young children and individuals with disabilities.

2018—A study led by Katie Hustad, PhD, is the first to show that very early language comprehension skills of children with cerebral palsy can accurately predict their language comprehension outcomes later in life. Early identification and very early speech-language therapy may improve outcomes for children likely to have significant problems later in life.