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National Labs Tennessee Titan: Millhorn Takes Reins as UT s Research VP

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David Millhorn may be a Tennessee native, but the land alone didn’t lure him back to his home state. The former director of the University of Cincinnati’s Genome Research Institute admits it is good to be back, but stresses that his new role as the University of Tennessee’s vice president of research brings more to the table than an amenable locale: it also makes him a key player in the university’s partnership with Battelle to run Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Cultivating and capitalizing on the university’s five-year-old partnership to run ORNL is the primary focus of Millhorn’s new role, and he clearly relishes this aspect of the job. “It’s a very exciting time to be here,” he says. “I don’t think there’s another university in the country that has the upside right now that this one does.”

The ORNL connection brings with it facilities and resources that enable the university to compete for large, federally funded research programs. Since the partnership began, the university has been able to expand its research programs thanks to the establishment of several jointly staffed institutes, including the Joint Institute for Biological Research, which houses DOE-funded projects in functional and comparative genomics.

John Petersen, president of the university, believes the school is primed to make a “quantum leap in its research efforts” through the ORNL connection, and that Millhorn is uniquely qualified to make this happen. In addition to the activities at Oak Ridge, Millhorn is tasked with expanding research lines by building institutions and establishing partnerships with organizations in Tennessee and elsewhere.

Millhorn knows a thing or two about building programs from the ground up: more than four years ago he was tapped to lead Cincinnati’s Genome Research Institute, which officially opened its doors in October 2001. In his role as the institute’s first director, he recruited researchers from around the world to staff the 360,000-square-foot laboratory complex in Reading, Ohio. Under his direction, the center forged partnerships with industry — such as Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals, among others — in order to optimize the commercialization of new genetic medicine discoveries.

Millhorn, who worked as a postdoc in the department of physiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before heading to Cincinnati, has been temporarily replaced at the GRI by George Thomas, who was recruited last year from Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland. Thomas will serve as interim director while Cincinnati conducts its search for a permanent director.

— Jennifer Crebs