Societal Contributions

Dale Wurster, August 1959. Photo courtesy of UW-Madison Photo Archives.
Dale Wurster, August 1959. Photo courtesy of UW-Madison Photo Archives.

Over the years, WARF's activities have made a profound, positive impact upon the health, safety and welfare of humankind. In addition to Steenbock's advance, the roster of UW–Madison discoveries patented and licensed by WARF includes:

  • Karl Paul Link's discovery of dicoumarol, the basis for Coumadin®, the most widely prescribed blood thinner for treating cardiovascular disease, and its counterpart, warfarin, still the most widely used rodenticide worldwide
  • A storage solution for transplant organs developed by Folkert Belzer and James Southard, which dramatically increased the amount of time organs could remain viable outside the body and significantly expanded organ availability
  • Paul Moran's magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) innovation that has greatly improved the diagnosis of trauma-induced injury and various disease states, and Charles Mistretta's MRI advances, which have done the same for the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease
  • A pharmaceutical tablet coating technique developed by Dale E. Wurster, which is used widely by industry to mask the unpleasant taste of drugs and to control their release in the body
  • Edwin B. Hart's discovery that copper facilitates the assimilation of iron by the body, which led to a therapeutic agent for anemia
  • Pharmaceuticals based on Hector DeLuca's vitamin D derivatives, which have been prescribed worldwide to treat bone disorders and other diseases resulting from vitamin D deficiencies
  • And most recently, James Thomson's isolation of human embryonic stem cells, which has paved the way toward treatments for currently incurable diseases, including Parkinson's disease and diabetes
Karl Paul Link in his laboratory circa 1950.
Karl Paul Link in his laboratory circa 1950.

One snowy morning in February 1933, Ed Carlson, a farmer from Deer Park, Wisconsin, came into Karl Paul Link's laboratory carrying a milk can full of blood that refused to coagulate. Outside he had a small heap of spoiled sweet clover hay and a dead heifer freezing in the back of his truck.

Studies on the factor in spoiled sweet clover hay that killed cattle by hemorrhaging were already well underway on the UW–Madison campus in 1933. R.A. Brink and W.K. Smith in the genetics department had been trying to breed a strain of clover free of the factor's precursor for several years, and efforts to isolate it were underway in Link's laboratory. But Link was an emotional man and, for him, the story of warfarin really began with Ed Carlson's visit.

The first paper describing the concentration of the hemorrhagic factor appeared in the October 1940, issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. "It was a modest paper," Link recalled. "My rule is, never overstate your case in print. It's better to understate it and let the facts speak for themselves."

In successive papers the facts did so eloquently. In 1941, Link and Harold Campbell reported the isolation of dicoumarol, the first of the oral anticoagulants now widely used in surgery and the treatment of circulatory disorders. At the same time, Link was becoming convinced that the anticoagulants being isolated and synthesized in this laboratory might also be useful as rodenticides.

"From the beginning," he said, "I had an intuitive feeling that this might be a good thing. A pretty bad thing for rats, but a good thing for humans. But the idea didn't come overnight. It came into my head and the heads of everyone in the lab over a period of years."

Again, the accumulating facts spoke for themselves, and in 1948 Link came to WARF's director Ward Ross with the suggestion that the foundation patent, as a rodenticide, the coumarin derivative he later named warfarin.

Why did Link turn over his technology to WARF?

"Well, they couldn't have been developed without the foundation," he said. "I couldn't have done it myself and I never thought of trying."

"And I'm a loyal Wisconsin man," he added. "After all, I went to school here. I came in as a freshman in 1917 and I got all my degrees here. In a broad sense, I wanted to do something for the university."

-- From WARF: Fifty Years, edited by William R. Jordan, III