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Noted OHSU Stem Cell Expert Appointed to Endowed Chair at Helm of New Pediatric Research Institute

Oregon Health & Science University has identified the man who will lead its multidisciplinary scientific quest for new treatments and cures for childhood disease.

Markus Grompe, M.D., an OHSU professor of pediatrics and molecular and medical genetics, has been named the university’s first Ray Hickey Chair of Pediatric Research and the inaugural director of the Papé Family Pediatric Research Institute. With his appointment, all the elements are in place for OHSU to launch a state-of-the-art regional center dedicated exclusively to pediatric disease research.

The facility itself – made possible by support from Shirley Papé, R.D., and her family – became a reality two years ago with the completion of the Biomedical Research Building on OHSU’s Marquam Hill Campus. With the laboratory built, OHSU officials began an extended search for the right person to shape its research agenda. Two events helped bring that complex process to a close: area philanthropist Ray Hickey stepped up to endow the position, and Markus Grompe threw his hat in the ring for the job.

Widely acknowledged as a scientific superstar for his key contributions to stem cell and gene transfer research, Grompe currently manages five coveted RO1 grants from the National Institutes of Health – an extraordinary feat in academic research. Hickey, who made his name in business at Tidewater Barge Lines before selling the company in 1996, has made a new career as an advocate for numerous causes, including OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

Together with daughters Cindy and Linda – the latter an active supporter of healthcare issues in her own right – Hickey recognized the need for a top-caliber director. 

“I may not know about medicine, but I’m pretty good at judging character,” Hickey said. “I’ve been greatly impressed with Markus Grompe and I’m proud he was selected. I know he has what it takes to bring pediatric research to the next level.” 

“It is a great honor to be the first recipient of the Ray Hickey Chair and Papé Institute directorship,” Grompe said. “With the honor comes the challenging job of meeting many different needs. I am confident that with the resources of the Papé Institute we can deliver on its promise to bring pediatric research to a new level.”

Under Grompe’s leadership the Papé Institute will take aim at the most serious and complex diseases striking children today. The goal: finding ways to attack a disease at its molecular roots rather than merely treat its symptoms. An early focus will be on the rapidly evolving field of gene therapy for pediatric cancer, and as new researcher are recruited, the scope will expand to include diabetes, kidney disease, neurological disorders, heart disease and more.  

Among many key scientific achievements, Grompe has:

  • Conclusively shown that therapeutic stem cells can be derived from adult bone marrow
  • Developed effective screening and treatments for the rare liver disorder tyrosinemia type 1
  • Identified and cloned a key gene linked to Fanconi anemia, a fatal blood disorder
  • Created a method of using mice to generate human liver cells, a capability useful in testing the effects of new drugs or diseases such as hepatitis C on the human liver
  • Founded Yecuris, Inc., an OHSU start-up company commercializing the above technology
  • Consulted with the White House and other government policy makers in the stem cell arena

 Grompe said he will be recruiting top scientists both at OHSU and beyond with a broad range of expertise. “The Papé Institute is now basically a blank slate. By bringing the right people on board, it’s within our grasp to create a regional powerhouse in the discovery and development of new treatments and cures for kids.”

H. Stacy Nicholson, M.D., M.P.H., Credit Unions for Kids Chair and Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics, said a national search revealed Grompe to be the ideal person to map out the future of OHSU Doernbecher’s pediatric research program.

“I was delighted when he expressed interest in the position.”

“It is impossible to overstate the importance of an endowed chair in recruiting and retaining top people,” said OHSU President Joseph E. Robertson Jr., M.D., M.B.A. “With his reputation, Markus Grompe could have gone anywhere in the nation to work. Thanks to what the Hickey and Papé families have provided, however, he’ll be staying right here.”

“A scientist of Markus’ caliber needs appropriate lab space, leading-edge equipment, a dedicated staff and the benefit of an endowed chair to enable him to move his agenda forward,” said Mark Richardson, M.D., M.Sc.B., M.B.A., dean of the OHSU School of Medicine. “With these elements all in place, we are confident he will be successful in recruiting extraordinary talent to his labs.”

“There’s a growing need today for generous people to support advances in research,” said Sue Nicol, Executive Director of the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Foundation. “That’s why we’re so fortunate to have friends like the Hickeys and the Papés. They are helping to provide the best for the children and families of Oregon and Southwest Washington – which is exactly what they deserve.” 

The OHSU Foundation and the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Foundation are 501(c)(3) organizations that exist to secure private philanthropic support for Oregon Health & Science University and OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. The foundations raise funds from individuals, companies, foundations and organizations, and invest and manage gifts in accordance with donors’ wishes.


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