University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers reported recently on their work to help physicians choose the best antibiotic to use in treating a patient’s infection.

The researchers, at the UW-Madison School of Pharmacy and the State Cartographer’s Office, according to a UW news release, “are developing a visual display of antibiotic resistance data across Wisconsin. By showing where in the state resistance to particular drugs is highest and making the information as easy to read as a weather map, the researchers aim to give physicians the tools they need to quickly and accurately choose the best antibiotic.”

That sounds like a good idea to me, one of those ideas that fits the mold called the Wisconsin Idea — that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state.

Giving new life to that idea was suggested in a Tribune op-ed on Sunday by former Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican, and a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of biochemistry, Michael Sussman, a Democrat who worked with Thompson in the past to build Wisconsin’s research capability based on their shared belief that “the wealth of knowledge and research at the University of Wisconsin should be utilized to improve people’s lives across the state.”

They cited examples from the past that built Wisconsin’s reputation as a powerhouse of scientific advances and social policy successes — warfarin to prevent blood clotting, concepts of unemployment and workers compensation and Medicaid and Social Security. They worked together 20 years ago to help address a lack of faculty and lab space in the biosciences at UW-Madison.

Now it’s time, they say, with Wisconsin “at a crossroads,” for another surge to “position our state to once again be a leader — in economic development, in innovation, in protecting our environment, and in graduating students who can make it happen.”

Their concern is well-founded, given the state of a state that resorts to advertising to try to convince people Wisconsin is the land of opportunity. Thompson and Sussman seem to suggest that building on substance is what will make Wisconsin great again. I agree.

Home-grown innovation and entrepreneurship are an appealing alternative to the high-cost job development strategies adopted by the Walker administration, the $3 billion Foxconn incentive project being the foremost example.

Recent years have brought announcements of other UW innovations that I’ve collected in a Wisconsin Idea file:

Tim Donohue, a UW-Madison bacteriology professor and director of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, is working with other researchers around the world for an organized approach to harnessing the power of microbes to tackle many of the world’s most pressing problems.

“That has enormous potential for the health of the planet and the health of people. It could make personalized medicine work. It could create new energy sources and be the catalyst for next-generation bio-based manufacturing. It could grow food and provide clean water,” Donohue said in a UW news release. “Twenty years from now we may look back at this as a watershed time where we began to take information on microbes and use them as predictors of human health and influencers of planetary activities on a new scale.”

Silatronix, a University of Wisconsin Madison startup that has invented a safer electrolyte for the lithium-ion batteries used in phones, laptops and tablets, moved into pilot production at a major Japanese battery manufacturer. Silatronix announced in September that it had received a $1 million battery research contract from the Office of Naval Research.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison animal scientist, Mark Cook, has developed an antibiotic-free method to protect animals raised for food against common infections.

The innovation comes as growing public concern about antibiotic resistance associated with antibiotic use in meat production. About 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States are used by farmers. Cook and fellow researcher Jordan Sand formed Ab E Discovery LLC to commercialize their research. They filed for patents through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and WARF awarded a $100,000 Accelerator Program grant to the inventors to pursue the antibiotic-replacement technology.

The Thompson and Sussman essay on the Wisconsin Idea is part of an effort by The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) to collect opinions from Wisconsin leaders in a new web series of articles called “Innovation and the Wisconsin Idea.”

“The Wisconsin Idea is the vision that our university’s positive influence can and should reach every family of the state,” said Erik Iverson, managing director of WARF.

What a good idea.

Dave Skoloda is a former part-owner and editor of the Onalaska Community Life and Holmen Courier.


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