In the late 1970s, David Rall, then Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, inaugurated a program to fund several extramural marine and freshwater centers that would emphasize the use of aquatic systems as alternatives to conventional mammalian models for the study of human environmental health issues. Under the leadership of John Lech, Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, a Center in Milwaukee was among the first to be established. From the outset, the MFBS Center was conceived as a partnership between the Medical College of Wisconsin, which submitted the first grant proposal, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which provided the physical location for the Center. Instead of viewing aquatic models as a separate niche area, our goal was to mainstream these systems.
Deputy Director David Petering became the principal investigator in 1987 and the grant moved to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). The transfer was met with generous matching funds of $330,000 from UWM to help remodel the Center's research space at the Great Lakes Wisconsin Aquatic Technology and Environmental Research (WATER) Institute. With these funds and a grant of $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Education, the Center was able to convert its open, relatively undeveloped area of approximately 3,000 sq. ft. into a state-of-the-art, two-floor facility of 6,000 sq. ft. that contains an advanced aquatic animal facility and a suite of laboratories. The Molecular Biology Core Laboratory was established in 1993. In 1999, the creation of a first-rate microscopic imagining unit was undertaken. Then, in 2000, support for zebrafish research became a priority. And in 2003, the core research support facilities were expanded to include a neurobehavioral toxicology laboratory.
During the past five years, the Center's capacity increased enormously as the University committed itself to hiring a number of scientists in the WATER Institute. With our focus on exploiting the zebrafish for developmental toxicological studies, we engaged the Medical College of Wisconsin's Pediatric Department, located at Children's Research Institute of Children's Hospital and Health System, in discussions about linking our expertise in basic developmental toxicology with their knowledge of and experience with clinical childhood disease. From these conversations in 2005 emerged the Children's Environmental Health Initiative, devoted to understanding the environmental contributions to childhood diseases and with this knowledge to find ways to prevent them. For more information about this initiative, please click the Children's Environmental Health Initiative link at the bottom of this page.