Michelson Prize and Grants Tours a Living Laboratory

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I’m the Program Assistant for the Michelson Prize & Grants program, and I love my job! Two weeks ago, I got to hang out with red pandas, snow leopards, cheetahs, and other critically endangered animals. How? Let me introduce you to Dr. David Wildt who made it all happen.

Dr. David Wildt is a well-known expert in the field of reproductive biology. He leads research on many species of animals from elephants to giant pandas, and manages the wildlife animal collection at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). Basically, Dr. Wildt is a reproductive biology rock star.

Dr. David Wildt

Yes, that’s Dr. Wildt with a lion.

Luckily for us, he is also an advisor on the Scientific Advisory Board of our Michelson Prize & Grants (MPG) program, dedicated to the goal of developing a single-dose nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs. For our June board meeting, Dr. Wildt invited the MPG team and the Board to the 3,200-acre SCBI in Front Royal, VA, to tour the “living laboratory” and learn about the amazing animal conservation research being conducted. But first, the Board got down to business and voted on research proposals for funding by the Michelson Grants (we’ll get back to the tour in a bit).

It’s not easy deciding how to distribute the $50 million dedicated toward the research of a nonsurgical sterilant. It takes the entire Scientific Advisory Board to evaluate which proposals have the innovative approaches to get us to a successful product. Other than reproductive biologists like Dr. Wildt, the Board is comprised of world-class scientists in immunology and toxicology, and specialists in animal welfare and regulatory affairs. With their collective expertise, MPG has approved 28 proposals for funding, totaling about $12 million in grants to date!

MPG Scientific Advisory board meeting

I feel smarter just being in the same room as them.

And now back to the tour, like I promised. Dr. Wildt led us to each animal facility, and the researcher on site gave a short presentation on the nature and status of the species and the science behind the breeding techniques being utilized to conserve them. It’s interesting how SCBI’s mission and MPG’s mission are similar in wanting to save the lives of animals, except they use the science to increase the populations of wild animals, and we use the science to fight the overpopulation of domesticated cats and dogs. Below are some highlights from this unforgettable tour!

snow leopard

Don’t be fooled by the small stature of this snow leopard. Just look at the size of those teeth!

Tufted deer

Tufted deer are considered a threatened species. Males have characteristic fang-like canines.


This young female charged us at the speed of cheetah, and it was absolutely terrifying despite the secure enclosure! “Oh, she just wants to play,” said researcher Adrienne Crosier.

kiwi bird

The kiwi of New Zealand is a very unusual animal. Did you know they lay the biggest eggs relative to body size out of any bird species? One egg is approximately 20% of their body size!

red panda

His name is Sherman, the red panda, and he is possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen.

We are looking forward to our next Scientific Advisory Board meeting scheduled in October 2013. These board meetings are fun, but most importantly, each grant approved brings us one step closer to our goal of finding a safe, cost effective, single-dose nonsurgical sterliant for cats and dogs.

Do you have any questions about our Michelson Prize and Grants Program? Leave us a comment below.

2 Responses

  1. cindy spiess says:

    Is there any place we can go to find out the progress being made on non-surgical sterilization for cats? We run an animal shelter and TNR programs and are frantic for these results. Attempting to determine how close labs are getting…

    • Annie M says:

      Hi Cindy,

      Yes! You can visit the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs’ website. They have a new ebook that is a comprehensive resource on current research in cat/dog nonsurgical sterilization and other products on the market. You can download the ebook for free here.

      Our Michelson Prize & Grants program is currently in its 5th year, and to date, we have approved 28 research projects for funding totaling $12.1 million in grants. Our grantees are using many innovative approaches toward a nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs, but a Prize winning product has yet to be fully developed and could be as far off as 10 years. You can sign up for the MPG quarterly newsletter here, to keep up with the latest news on the MPG program. I hope that helps, thanks.