When Dorothy Shaw died in 1980, she left both a wish and a challenge to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.
In a brief paragraph in her 10-page will, the quiet and conservative widow of a prominent Milwaukee attorney wrote simply that she was leaving the Foundation the balance of her estate – about $4.5 million – to support research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the fields of biochemistry, biological science and cancer research.
Having lost two sisters to cancer and having once worked for the Wisconsin Anti-Tuberculosis Association, Shaw perhaps understood the role research could play on eradicating such diseases.
Shaw’s idea was subject to interpretation and creativity. What the Foundation ultimately designed in 1982 with guidance from a group of leading researchers and local scientists was the Shaw Scientist Program, a unique grant program that is advancing research in those fields and giving encouragement to young scientists at a critical point in their careers.
"Sciences goes in unexpected directions," said Owen Griffith, dean of the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and a member of the program’s advisory panel. "You may see an opportunity, but you don’t have the money."
The program provides researchers $200,000 to pursue opportunities that may be promising but are considered too unconventional for traditional funding. Unlike most research grants, Shaw grants are unrestricted and can be used for everything from equipment purchases to salaries for research assistants. Recent winners have explored how to fight bacteria and studied ways of turning off signals that encourage cancer cells to grow.
In addition to $2 million in special grants, it has given more than $11 million to scientists to pursue projects that might one day lead to new drugs to fight AIDS or cancer or create treatments to counteract other diseases.
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