Research Communications

EBI founder Thomas Wagner returns Nov. 12 for talk on OHIO’s groundbreaking transgenic animal discovery 

By Angelita Faller

Oct. 27, 2014

In 1989, Ohio University received a patent for a groundbreaking scientific technique that allows the genes of one animal to be transferred to another animal.

On the 25th anniversary of this milestone, the founder of Ohio University's Edison Biotechnology Institute (EBI) and a pioneer in the field of biomedical research will return to Athens to reflect on his revolutionary research in transgenic technology.

Thomas Wagner, a retired distinguished professor of molecular and cellular biology at Ohio University, will present "The Path to and from the Discovery of Transgenic Animals" at 4 p.m., Wed., Nov. 12, at the Konneker Research Center, Building 25, The Ridges.

"I will be speaking about the journey, scientific and personal, that led me to develop transgenic technology and the quest to understand cancer and develop new and much more effective treatments for this tragic disease. I have been away from Athens for nearly 17 years now but, I am sure, it will feel like going home," Wagner said.

Wagner is probably best known for his 1980 discovery of DNA microinjection, a method that allows genes to be transferred from one animal to another. During the process, DNA from an animal with a desirable trait is injected into an embryo shortly after fertilization with the goal that the embryo will incorporate the DNA into its genetic makeup and pass the trait onto future generations.

One year later, Wagner's research team brought national attention to Ohio University when they successfully created the first transgenic animal by transferring a rabbit gene into a mouse. Ohio University patented the process in 1989. It has been an important development in agricultural and medical research, says EBI Director Shiyong Wu.

"The transgenic animal technology pioneered by Dr. Wagner a quarter century ago revolutionized biomedical research because it enabled the generation and frequent use of animal models for disease by introducing genetic changes into research animals. This technology remains a powerful tool in medical research that is used worldwide to investigate and develop treatments for major medical challenges," Wu said.

After his successful research in DNA microinjection, in 1984 Wagner founded and became the director of EBI, which is focused on interdisciplinary biomedical research, technology commercialization of research and economic development.

After 28 years in Athens, in 1998 Wagner retired from Ohio University and moved to South Carolina to serve as the director of the Oncology Research Institute, where he researched the application of modern molecular and cellular biology to develop new cancer treatments.

In 2013, he founded a medical clinic in the Cayman Islands, Perseus PCI (Personalized Cancer Immunotherapeutics), that offers patients a radiation- and chemotherapy-free cancer treatment option. Patients are injected with a vaccine made from their own tumor cells in the hope that the patient's immune system will learn to identify and eliminate cancer cells within the body.

A native of Ohio, Wagner graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor's degree in chemistry and biology from Princeton University in 1964 and a doctorate in biochemistry from Northwestern University in 1966. He has received more than $25 million in research funding, published more than 250 books and scientific papers, and holds more than 50 patents.

A reception for Wagner will be held at 3:30 p.m. prior to his talk.  

Photo courtesy of Thomas Wagner.