In First Step of Promising Partnership, Chile Will Send Scholars to UC San Diego to Boost Chile's Biotech Science

September 5, 2007

By Paul K. Mueller

The University of California, San Diego has signed a formal agreement with the government of Chile that will bring six Chilean doctoral and post-doctoral students to UC San Diego to conduct research, and to learn how university research can be translated into new businesses, new jobs and new benefits for their fellow citizens.

Following a two-year immersion in the innovation-oriented environment of San Diego and UC San Diego, the scholars will return to occupy positions in Chilean institutions.

The agreement, under which Chile will underwrite the cost of educating their scientists at the university over the next several years, has the potential to become a highly beneficial arrangement for both the government and universities of Chile and UC San Diego faculty, who will benefit from the research contributions of the visitors as well as establish collaborations and exchanges with Chilean colleagues.

The agreement was spearheaded by Eduardo Macagno, a professor of biological sciences and founding dean of the Division of Biological Sciences at UC San Diego, who two years ago brought a high-level delegation of Latin American leaders from business, government and academe to UC San Diego to learn how the university catalyzed the development of San Diego's biotech and infotech industries. He has a vision of an Americas-wide research effort - a collaboration that would use UC San Diego's success in biotechnology innovation and entrepreneurship as a template for similar economic development throughout North, Central and South America.

Macagno offered the Chileans some impressive numbers when he proposed the collaboration: UC San Diego is an engine for regional economic growth in Southern California; faculty and alumni have spun off more than 250 local companies, including over a third of the region's biotech companies. And with the Division of Biological Sciences and other divisions at UC San Diego actively pursuing biofuels and other alternatives to petroleum, the Chilean scholars have both a model for successful technology transfer and a wealth of research opportunities.

Participation in the program is also under discussion with Mexico and Colombia.

The program, which will be co-directed by Macagno and Maarten Chrispeels, a professor of plant cell and molecular biology at UC San Diego, will be known as the Science, Technology and Innovation Program for the Americas, or STIPA.

Elements of the training will include laboratory work, dissertation research, workshops on intellectual property and technology-transfer issues, special training at UC San Diego's Rady School of Management, visits to local biotechnology companies, and establishment of professional and scientific networks.

Chilean students will study plant genetics, functional genomics, biofuels, systems biology and metabolic engineering, biosensors, stem-cell biology and related multidisciplinary fields.

A native of Argentina and a U.S. citizen since 1961, Macagno has been named one of the nation's "50 Most Important Hispanics in Business and Technology." He is well known for his studies of the mechanisms of growth and development of the nervous system, and maintains an active research laboratory that has been continuously supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation for over 30 years.

"I've seen the broad, positive effects that academics, science and research can have on a region and a nation," Macagno says. "I also perceive a challenge to the Americas' future competitive edge as China, India, and other nations increasingly adopt our model for innovation and entrepreneurship. I believe that agreements such as the one we just signed with Chile can begin to form the kind of international partnerships the Americas will need to prosper in coming decades."