MilliporeSigma Gift Enhances Research Efforts Across University

From the fall 2017 issue of The Spirit of Washington University

Millipore Sigma_Resizedforstory_1.jpg

Aaron Bobick, James M. McKelvey Professor and dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science, left, and Udit Batra, chief executive officer of MilliporeSigma, tour a biomedical engineering lab in Brauer Hall on May 17. The lab is located on the MilliporeSigma Floor, which was dedicated that day in recognition of the company’s gift of laboratory equipment and supplies.

For more than 70 years, Washington University and MilliporeSigma have been connected by a shared history and a deep commitment to creating knowledge that improves the quality of life for people around the globe. During that time, the university has become one of the world’s premier research institutions, and MilliporeSigma has grown into a global leader in the life sciences industry.

The longstanding relationship between the two partners was strengthened in 2016 when MilliporeSigma contributed more than $13.8 million worth of laboratory equipment and supplies to help scientists advance important research across the university. In recognition of the gift, the second floor of Stephen F. and Camilla T. Brauer Hall in the School of Engineering & Applied Science has been named the MilliporeSigma Floor.

“We are grateful for MilliporeSigma’s generosity and are delighted to have the company’s name so prominently featured in Brauer Hall,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton says. “At a time of tight research funding, this gift has made a significant difference to our scientists, particularly those early in their careers who are setting up their labs.”

The MilliporeSigma Floor seamlessly connects Brauer Hall with Uncas A. Whitaker Hall and Preston M. Green Hall within the engineering complex. It is home to classrooms, offices, and gathering spaces. The floor also houses multiple biomedical engineering laboratories, where engineering faculty members and students work closely with scientists and physicians throughout the university to improve the diagnosis and treatment of human disease.

The collaboration that takes place on the floor echoes the partnership between Washington University and MilliporeSigma, which began with the founding of Sigma Chemical Company by university alumni in 1946. The partnership continued after the company merged with Aldrich Chemical Company in the 1970s and was acquired by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, in 2015, when it was renamed MilliporeSigma.

“The longstanding relationship between Washington University and MilliporeSigma has helped advance scientific research and discovery in meaningful ways,” says Udit Batra, chief executive officer of MilliporeSigma. “We look forward to continuing our association with the university.”

The more than 50,000 items donated by MilliporeSigma range from basic laboratory supplies to reagents, cell culture kits, and other essential materials and equipment. These items are helping more than 200 faculty members in the engineering school, Arts & Sciences, and the School of Medicine conduct innovative research and enhance educational opportunities for students.

“This gift has had a deep impact on our researchers’ ability to make groundbreaking discoveries,” says David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “I am particularly grateful that many young investigators have benefited. The research funding climate is especially harsh for these investigators, who must produce a sufficient body of data before they secure their first grants.”

In the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Assistant Professor Jonathan Silva, PhD ’98, used supplies donated by MilliporeSigma to make a key breakthrough in understanding how Class I anti-arrhythmic drugs affect irregular heartbeats. “This advance was an essential part of our recently funded five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health,” Silva says.

Supplies received by Jeffrey Catalano, associate professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, aided with day-to-day operations in his lab and provided materials for new experiments. “Perhaps the most interesting item was a substantial supply of high-purity silica sand,” he says. “The cleanliness and uniform grain size of the material are essential for experiments we are conducting to better understand the transport of contaminants through soil and sediments.”

This latest gift extends MilliporeSigma’s decades-long legacy of support for research, training, and universitywide initiatives. Among the company’s earliest contributions to the university was a gift in 1958 to establish a predoctoral fellowship in memory of School of Medicine faculty member Gerty Cori, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

MilliporeSigma also has sponsored two fellows in the university’s McDonnell International Scholars Academy and was an early supporter of the Institute for School Partnership, which works to improve K–12 teaching and learning in St. Louis and beyond.

“The breadth and depth of our work with MilliporeSigma is striking, touching nearly every corner of Washington University,” Chancellor Wrighton says. “It is a manifestation of an enduring and beneficial partnership that has improved the St. Louis region and helped us address some of the world’s greatest challenges.”

Alumni Play key roles in company's Founding, Growth

Washington University and MilliporeSigma have ties leading back to the formation of the life sciences materials, technology, and services company.

In 1935, chemical engineers and Washington University alumni Bernard Fischlowitz, BS ’24, MS ’26, and Aaron Fischer, BS ’28, incorporated Midwest Consultants in St. Louis. The firm helped companies produce cosmetics, adhesives, inks, and other products. Within a year, they hired fellow alumnus Dan Broida, BS ’36, to help manage the business.
Sigma Chemical Company_Archival_Resized_1.jpg
Sigma Chemical Company was founded by Washington University alumni in 1946.

A decade later, Mr. Broida brought on additional alumni to help the company manufacture saccharin, a product in high demand due to a sugar shortage during World War II. They launched Sigma Chemical Company in 1946.
 
In the early 1950s, Mr. Broida enlisted the help of Lou Berger, BS ’39, MA ’43, to chart a new path for Sigma Chemical Company. Mr. Berger suggested manufacturing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a source of energy naturally produced in living organisms. While pursuing his master’s degree in biochemistry at Washington University, he had learned to isolate, extract, and purify ATP in the lab of Nobel Laureates Carl and Gerty Cori, both professors in the School of Medicine. He taught these methods to Sigma chemists, and the compound quickly became a sales success, leading the company to focus on biochemical production.
 
The Coris’ son, C. Thomas Cori, MA ’66, PhD ’70, joined Sigma Chemical Company after earning his doctorate in chemistry at Washington University. He became vice president when the company merged with Aldrich Chemical Company in 1975. He went on to serve as president and chief executive officer of Sigma-Aldrich Corporation during a time of great growth, retiring as chairman of the board in 2000.
 
In 2015, Washington University Trustee Rakesh Sachdev, president and chief executive officer of Sigma-Aldrich at the time, oversaw the acquisition of the company by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, the world’s oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company. Now operating as MilliporeSigma in the United States and Canada, the company has 60 manufacturing sites worldwide and employs 19,000 people.