$1 million gift to BioFrontiers Institute to aid CU grad students

BOULDER — A couple in California has given a $1 million gift to the University of Colorado’s BioFrontiers Institute in Boulder to establish a fund for graduate students participating in an interdisciplinary bioscience program.

John F. Milligan and Kathryn Bradford-Milligan’s gift will start the Olke C. Uhlenbeck Endowed Graduate Fund that will support first-year grad students pursuing doctorates in one of nine academic departments and includes additional coursework in interdisciplinary bioscience.

The fellowship is intended to fund each recipient for a two-year period for roughly $55,000 and is expected to be awarded every other year beginning in fall 2016.

The funding will support tuition and stipend costs for first-year graduate students pursuing doctoral degrees as part of the BioFrontiers IQ Biology PhD Certificate program.

Milligan is president and chief of California-based Gilead Sciences Inc. that has operations in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. The biopharma company is focused on discovering, developing and commercializing therapeutics and advancing the care of patients suffering from life-threatening diseases worldwide.

Milligan spent two years of his doctoral studies in Uhlenbeck’s lab at CU Boulder after it was moved from the University of Illinois in 1986. Milligan subsequently joined Gilead Sciences as a research scientist.

Uhlenbeck, an internationally known biochemist, spent 16 years at CU Boulder at a time when the university was becoming a leader in RNA research. He was elected into the National Academy of Sciences in 1993 and is a founding member of the RNA Society, which publishes the scientific journal RNA.

“I really value the time I spent at CU Boulder with Olke,” Milligan said in a prepared statement. “I appreciate the conversations we had as I developed into a scientist. He also taught me to be a leader by showing me what it meant to be engaged in research and intellectually curious.”

Distinguished professor Tom Cech, director of the BioFrontiers Institute, will participate in selecting the first Uhlenbeck Fellow from the incoming class of IQ Biology students this fall. Cech shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his discovery that RNA in living cells is not only a molecule of heredity but also can function as a catalyst.

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