People Who Care
Generous donors help to keep "best and brightest" young scientists at U-M
"I don’t do bricks and mortar — I’m a hands-on person and I like to know exactly who my money is going to,” says Edith Briskin, a Bloomfield Hills resident, philanthropist and artist.
“I was asked to be on the Taubman Institute board and thought it would be interesting to have a program that would support young researchers so they could get their own labs going," she said.
“That’s how the Emerging Scholars program started, and I funded the first one.”
The Edith Briskin/SKS Foundation Emerging Scholar, Dr. Erika Newman, assistant professor of pediatric surgery, is studying neuroblastoma – an often-fatal childhood cancer – at the cellular level with an eye toward new understanding and treatment of one of the most common pediatric cancers.
“I want to care for kids with solid tumors in the hospital and the operating room,” said Dr. Newman. “But I also wanted to start a research lab to get to the root of what causes these tumors.”
Leadership Advisory Board member Edith Briskin and Taubman Emerging scholar Dr. Erika Newman
Today, four Emerging Scholars -- young physician-scientists with promising research plans -- have established their labs at U-M. Many more outstanding candidates have been identified and hope to be matched with sponsors.
The program supports early-career doctor-scientists who still are accumulating the credentials required for larger grants; each receives $50,000 a year for three years to fund their research.
Before the founding of the Taubman Institute, Ms. Briskin had sought out other up-and-coming scientists to receive sponsorship from her family’s Shirley K. Schlafer Foundation, which donates money to pediatric cancer research and to arts programs for children at risk and disadvantaged children. Targeting funds for specific individuals is quite satisfying, she says.
Dr. Newman is using the Emerging Scholars grant to fund a lab staffed by one full-time assistant and several students; she spends about half of her days at the research bench and the rest of the time sees patients.
“Stem cells are expensive, and there’s a lot of trial and error,” she said. “The support of the Taubman Institute has allowed us to be creative, to take risks with our experiments and to follow my dream of tracing cancer back to its origins.
“They believe in us, and that inspires me.”
So far, funding has been established for three more Taubman Emerging Scholars, and numerous candidates for future grants have been identified.
Briskin said the personal connection with researchers she sponsors, through lunches, meetings and other events, adds an extra dimension to her philanthropy.
“I think the Taubman Institute is doing what medicine should be doing,” said Briskin. “These are doctors who see the patients, see the problems and want to solve them in the lab. It makes so much sense.
“It’s so important that we help the younger generation in their quest. In order to keep them at U-M we have to have programs like this.”
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