CLEMSON — Clemson University has received a $2 million pledge from a private foundation to help fund an endowed chair in human genetics. But it comes with a challenge: University officials and state leaders will have to work together to address the needed state match requirement to receive the gift.
The Self Family Foundation envisions the Greenwood area as a genetic economic cluster, offering businesses genetics expertise, skilled research personnel and research park resources. The goal is to develop Greenwood Genetics Center as a magnet campus that will attract health-related industries with an education and research component similar to the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville.
“Clemson’s relationship with the internationally recognized Greenwood Genetic Center presents an excellent opportunity to attract a prominent geneticist-scientist in human genetics to fill an endowed position,” said Virginia Preston Self, foundation chairwoman. “Over the years we have seen Clemson transform into one of the nation’s leading research universities and are excited about the economic impact our ties with the university and this investment could have on Greenwood and South Carolina.
“It was my late father, Jim Self, who understood the enormous potential of genetics research that led him to help Dr. Roger Stevenson establish the Greenwood Genetics Center over 35 years ago. We hope our pledge will help realize his dream of diversifying Greenwood’s economy and forging an ever stronger relationship between two institutions he deeply cared for.”
Clemson University and the Greenwood Genetic Center are long-time partners in research, education and economic development. Grateful for the gift pledge and vote of confidence, Clemson President Jim Barker said, “The Center of Economic Excellence in Human Genetics has tremendous potential to further that collaboration, to create life-changing new tools and therapies, and to improve the economy of Greenwood.
“Clemson University’s ties to the Greenwood community go back many years, and they are very deep. Some of our university’s strongest leaders have come from Greenwood and from the Self family. This is a proud legacy and an important responsibility for us both.”
“The partnership between the Greenwood Genetic Center, Clemson University and the Greenwood Partnership Alliance presents a unique opportunity. This collaboration combines resources and capabilities in human genetics education, research, health service and community outreach. It is poised to become a major economic development engine in our region by providing knowledge-based, high-wage jobs at the Greenwood Genetic Center campus and the Greenwood Research Park,” said Mark Warner, CEO of the Greenwood Partnership Alliance.
Transforming the challenge into reality will require Clemson and Greenwood leaders to work with state officials to meet funding goals for the endowed chair and for a major construction project.
South Carolina’s Research Centers of Economic Excellence Program helps fund endowed chairs at the state’s research universities. The program in the past has provided a $30 million annual public contribution from state lottery funds to help state universities recruit top scientists and develop Centers of Economic Excellence that focus on cutting-edge research and economic development.
The state dollar-for-dollar match for funding endowed chairs has been suspended because of revenue shortfalls. As the South Carolina economy rebounds in the next year or so, Clemson will work to make a case to state leaders to renew investment in the Centers of Economic Excellence.
University leaders also will seek state support through the South Carolina Research University Infrastructure Act to build a graduate education center on the Greenwood Genetic Center campus.
Clemson University, the Greenwood Genetic Center and the Partnership Alliance are investing in the joint effort through an ambitious fundraising campaign to meet matching-fund requirements.
“The prospects for improved health, as well as for economic development in South Carolina, are extraordinary,” said John Kelly, university vice president for economic development and public service. “This initiative will strengthen the appeal of Upstate South Carolina for genetics-related companies.”
The Greenwood Genetic Center is a nonprofit institute, organized to provide clinical genetic services and laboratory testing, to develop educational programs and materials, and to conduct research in the field of medical genetics. Each year more than 20,000 families from throughout South Carolina and the Southeast receive clinical, laboratory diagnostic and counseling services through the center’s clinical and laboratory operations.
The center works closely with the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs to provide diagnostic services, treatment and prevention programs to reduce the risk and severity of disabling conditions.
“We are determined to break new ground in clinical service, laboratory and diagnostic testing, educational programs and research and we intend to lead the way into the 21st century with hope for every family at risk of genetic disease,” said Dr. Roger Stevenson, center director.
The Greenwood Genetic Center maintains its own research division: the JC Self Research Institute of Human Genetics. Opening in 1996, the institute is a state and national resource where scientists seek a greater understanding of the causes, treatment and prevention of birth defects and intellectual disability. In addition to the center’s own research initiatives, these scientists serve as adjunct faculty for Clemson’s Ph.D. program in human genetics. The continued collaboration between the center’s inherent research division and the center of economic excellence will increase the impact of both programs.
In 1999, the Partnership Alliance and Greenwood-area legislative delegation helped secure a $3.5 million grant from the General Assembly to establish the South Carolina Biotechnology Incubation Facility, a 22,000-square-foot west wing addition to the Self Research Institute.
About 8,000 square feet of the facility are used for laboratory modules and related office space that is available for startup companies developing commercial applications for life sciences products and processes. The building includes a library, conference facility and space for central services and other support activities. Economically viable projects are encouraged to grow into separate operations in the surrounding Biotechnology Park. This experience provides a model for the potential of the center of economic excellence made possible by the Self Family Foundation’s commitment.
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