Kimble earns 2019 WARF named professorship

Photo of Judith Kimble
Professor Judith Kimble.

Biochemistry professor Judith Kimble has been honored with a Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) Named Professorship, as one of 10 distinguished campus researchers receiving them this year.

Support for the award is provided by the University of Wisconsin–Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (VCRGE) with funding from WARF. The awards, which come with $100,000, honor faculty who have made major contributions to the advancement of knowledge, primarily through their research endeavors, but also as a result of their teaching and service activities. Among just the current biochemistry faculty, nine others also currently hold this honor.

“These awards are made to very distinguished researchers across campus, so it’s a real honor to be included among them,” Kimble says. “It will be immensely helpful for my lab and students. As both a department and campus citizen, it’s a privilege to be part of such a significant group here in Biochemistry but also across this outstanding university.”

Kimble’s history of scientific excellence on campus is long. In 1981 she discovered the first stem cell niche, and since has unraveled the genes, pathways and networks that regulate stem cell self-renewal and differentiation. Her research, based on analyses of microscopic nematodes, has revealed molecular mechanisms operating in all animals with implications for human disease.

The simplicity of their model nematode C. elegans — such as its three-day life cycle, transparency and total of about 1000 cells — allows her to use powerful gene editing and imaging techniques to tackle basic questions in animal development and understand molecules and networks that regulate how stem cells create a tissue.

Image of C. elegans.
C. elegans is an excellent model for stem cell development. This light microscope image shows the entire living animal. The head is to the left, tail to the right. Two embryos are visible below the adult animal. The gonad is the large U-shaped tube in the tail-end half of the worm. The top part of the tube contains germline stem cells at the distal tip (pointy end nearer to the head), the bottom part contains differentiating oocytes (large rectangular cells). Image by M. Gallegos.

Over the years, Kimble has worked with WARF in various capacities, such as serving on the scientific advisory board for the Morgridge Institute for Research, and been impressed with WARF’s unparalleled value to campus.

“Each time I’ve gone to WARF with an idea to strengthen campus, they have always been extremely supportive and willing to partner and help,” explains Kimble, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “I, and the rest of campus as well, are very thankful for their existence and continued success.”

The WARF professorships allow researchers to memorialize a scientist significant to them by choosing the name associated with their professorship. Kimble has been named the Vannevar Bush Professor of Biochemistry. Bush was a visionary engineer, scientist, and educator who was also pivotal to federal science policy. His service to the White House during World War II and relationship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt led him to write a visionary report on the importance of basic science, Science – The Endless Frontier, and spearhead creation of the National Science Foundation.

“He understood that basic science is essential for our nation’s health and well-being, and that is one of my mantras as well,” Kimble says. “At a very small scale, all my findings have been in basic research and yet have had implications for human health. There is no question in my mind that basic science on a larger scale forms the bedrock for the future of our nation, and I applaud the VCRGE and WARF for understanding this simple but sometimes counterintuitive message.”

To read more about these professorships and other recent campus awards, see here.