At Kleinmuntz Center, business meets genetic research

At Kleinmuntz Center, business meets genetic research

URBANA — A new center designed to broaden the public impact of genomics research at the University of Illinois has been launched by the Carle R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.

The Catherine and Don Kleinmuntz Center for Genomics in Business and Society was funded with a $1.25 million gift from the couple, who co-founded Strata Decision Technology, a health care analytics software company once housed at the UI Research Park.

The Kleinmuntz Center will give the institute more opportunities for economic development, public engagement and social impact, UI officials say.

Established in 2007, the institute addresses "grand challenges" in society, with research teams pulled together from 34 departments on campus for greater impact, said Director Gene Robinson. Their work has attracted several major grants and helped uncover the origins of life, created better cancer therapies and made crops more efficient, among other discoveries, he said.

With the motto "Where science meets society," the institute has also focused on commercializing research and connecting with the public through educational outreach programs.

The gift will allow the institute to broaden those activities and pull them under one umbrella, Robinson said.

The activities include funding to help scientists bring innovations to market and entrepreneurship training for graduate students and others interested in biosciences.

The gift will also support the "World of Genomics" exhibits that have appeared at Chicago's Field Museum and St. Louis Science Center to new locations. And the "Genomics For" program for judges, doctors, attorneys and other professionals whose work is touched by genomics will be expanded to journalists, investors and government agencies.

The outreach efforts generate new supporters for the IGB, help faculty get grants, and train young researchers how to engage with the public, Robinson said.

"We're right in the beginning of the genomics revolution nationwide. As a premier institution, we have a special responsibility to help interpret the role of genomics for the public," Robinson told campus senators last week as they approved the new institute.

The Kleinmuntz gift will be allocated over five years, and the center will carry the couple's name for that time period. Robinson said he was grateful for the couple's generosity and confidence.

Catherine Kleinmuntz, a principal of Kleinmuntz Associates health care management firm, said she was introduced to the institute's work when she spoke to students and faculty members about building a startup business.

"It is easy to see that IGB is a very special place, because of the scientific talent gathered under one roof and because of the importance of the problems being addressed," she said.

Don Kleinmuntz, an analytics consultant and former UI business professor, said the interdisciplinary nature of IGB's work stood out.

"Solving these truly difficult problems requires breaking out of traditional academic silos, drawing together the best minds from across campus, and giving them the resources they need to devise unique solutions," he said.

The goal is to facilitate the process of translating great science into applications that will benefit business and society, he said.

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