Alumni Spotlight on EPO Investigator Don Wojchowski

by Joe Kunkel

This past Fall 2010 the UMass Campus was treated to a visit from an accomplished Biology alumnus, Dr. Don Wojchowski. He gave a Molecular and Cellular Biology, MCB Colloquium talk on his specialty which is the regulation of red blood cell generation: "Novel molecular mechanisms of (hematopoietic) cell growth, survival and lineage determination as discovered via global analysis of erythropoietin (EPO) receptor action." This return of a Zoology and MCB Alumnus went off so well that we are itching to invite back other of our Alumni who can inspire our current faculty, graduates and undergraduates.

Don is a native of Maine, born and raised in the Portland area. Don graduated from Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He then became a part of Maine's 'brain drain' out of state. First he obtained biomedical research training at Boston's Children's Hospital where he became interested in the role of hormones in development. Then Don was accepted into our then UMass Zoology Graduate Program and was soon recruited into the then new MCB Program as part of its first year class. Don studied in Joe Kunkel's lab and with Jack Nordin from Biochemistry, and Peter Parsons from Holy Cross University on his advisory committee he began his research on insect endocrine regulation of vitellogenesis.

Out of the lab Don was Zooology Softball and Volleyball Captain. He romanced fellow MCB Grad Student Karen Miller and married her. Then Zoology Faculty Bud Moner and Steve Kaulenas were on his Ph. D. exam Committee. Don earned his Ph.D. in 1984 from Zoology since the MCB Program had not yet received its degree granting authority.

Don did postdoctoral studies at Harvard Medical Sch. on Erythropoietin -or- EPO. Then from 1987-2003 he climbed Assistant to Full Professor at Penn State. {Of course, Joe Paterno, legendary Penn Football Coach, was very interested in the EPO gene and its control} Wife (Karen Miller) also climbed the Asst to Full Professor ladder. Don was appointed Immunobiology Program Director at Penn State. His major research focus remains on hematopoiesis.

Then in 2003 Don and Karen moved to Maine Medical Center Research Institute ... part of Maine's anti-brain drain in which it is recapturing some of its earlier students who gathered experience outsie Maine but could be attracted back by promises of new research opportunities and memories of their upbringing. Their child born in Pennsylvania was regrounded in Maine, 'the way life should be'! In 2005 Don was appointed Director of the NIH COBRE*-funded MMCRI Stem & Progenitor Cell Biology Program at Maine Medical. In that role he directs 14 PIs on various bio-medical systems: Erythropoietin, EPO receptor and erythropoiesis. EPO/EPOR actions in non-hematopoietic contexts, and new interests in stem cell biology.

*COBRE stands for the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence, which are a select set of locations in our nation where research on a topic is encouraged by a long term grant (up to 15 years) in which Don is leading the center through their second five years of funding.