Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

September 1, 2005

Stem-Cell Lecture by Award-Winning Alum Opens Whitworth Homecoming Weekend

One of the leading reproductive biologists in the country working on male-fertility issues will cut through the media hype and over-heated rhetoric to explain what's really at stake in stem-cell research during a public lecture that kicks off Whitworth's 2005 Homecoming weekend.

Kyle Orwig, a 1990 Whitworth alumnus and professor at a top stem-cell research center at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, will present a lecture, "What's Really at Stake in the Stem-Cell Research Debate?", on Thursday, Sept. 15, at 7 p.m. in the Robinson Teaching Theatre in Whitworth's Weyerhaeuser Hall. Admission is free.

Orwig also is one of four Whitworth alumni who, along with key college donors, will be recognized at the George F. Whitworth Honors Banquet on Friday, Sept. 16, at 6 p.m. in the Hixson Union Building (HUB). He will receive the Recent Alumnus Award, recognizing alumni who have achieved significant success in their careers within 15 years of graduation.

Also being honored at the banquet will be Steve and Cinda Gorman, graduates from 1970 and 1971 respectively and co-pastors of Westwood First Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, who will receive the Alumni Mind & Heart Award for exemplifying the Whitworth mission. LeRoy Hook, from the class of 1940, will receive the Alumni Service to Whitworth Award for rallying fellow alumni to keep alive the name of former dean of students Francis T. Hardwick, in the form of an endowed scholarship after the Hardwick Union Building was demolished. And 1944 alumna Frances Scott will receive the Distinguished Alumna Award for extraordinary service to the community and achievement in her field. Scott was the first African-American woman to practice law in Spokane and to serve on the U.S. Civil Service Commission and also has served as a regent for Washington State University.

Other Whitworth Homecoming events open to the public - all on Saturday, Sept. 17 - include a faculty art show, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the Fine Arts Gallery, located in Room 203 of the Fine Arts Building; dedication of the Scotford Tennis Center and Hello Walk, at 11 a.m. at the tennis center at the north end of campus; and the Homecoming football game against the University of LaVerne, at 12:30 p.m. at the Pine Bowl. For a full schedule of Homecoming events, visit www.whitworth.edu/homecoming.

After graduating from Whitworth in 1990 with a bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry, Orwig completed a doctorate in biochemistry and animal sciences at Oregon State University and a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Kansas. In 1999 he accepted a faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked with one of the top reproductive biologists in the world. In 2003 he was recruited to join the Pittsburgh Development Center, an ambitious new research center at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where he now serves as a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences and of molecular genetics and biochemistry.

Orwig has established an active research lab focusing on understanding the biological activity and functional genetic characteristics of male germline stem cells, the stem cells that give rise to sperm. Stem cells have become the focus of intense investigation due to their essential role in embryonic and adult-tissue development and their capacity to regenerate unhealthy or damaged tissues.

"Male germline stem cells are located in the testes and lie at the foundation of spermatogenesis, one of the most productive, self-renewing systems in the body," Orwig says. "Investigation of these undifferentiated cells provides insight into several fundamental aspects of mammalian biology and could lead to important medical treatment applications."

Orwig's research, which has attracted significant funding from the National Institutes of Health and has been published in leading scientific journals, shows promise for restoring fertility to patients whose ability to produce sperm cells is compromised by, for example, chemotherapy or radiation treatment of cancer. His team is exploring a technique for taking a biopsy of the testis before treatment, then manipulating the tissue to derive a solution of cells with a high concentration of sperm-producing stem cells, which, when injected back into the testicle of a healthy cancer survivor, would restore fertility.

Given the tremendous therapeutic potential of stem-cell research, Orwig is concerned about the level of scientific misunderstanding he observes in news coverage and political debates on the issue. In his lecture at Whitworth, he plans to explain the basic biological function and potential medical applications of stem cells, the difference between embryonic and adult stem cells, the current scientific and regulatory challenges facing stem-cell research, and the status of his own research on male germline stem cells.

"I hope to provide a foundation of information about the practical, ethical and legal implications of stem cell research, as our politicians, religious leaders, family and friends grapple with this pioneering, but complicated, frontier in modern medicine," says Orwig, who, like most stem-cell biologists, is strongly opposed to human reproductive cloning. "One of the best things I took away from my Whitworth education is the value of rigorous inquiry and critical thinking when facing complex issues, and we could use more of both in the debate over stem-cell research."

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The college enrolls 2,400 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.

Contacts:

Greg Orwig, director of communications, (509) 777-4580 or gorwig@whitworth.edu.

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