Versiti Blood Research Institute Is a Leader in Research and Innovation

Seventy-seven years ago, the Junior League of Milwaukee saw a need in the city – patients needed blood and donors were in short supply. The group of local women founded the Milwaukee Blood Center on Wells Street, a small location where people could donate. The humble operation would soon grow exponentially. 

“The Junior League knew the city needed a sustainable blood supply – but they also knew the importance of science and innovation in medicine. That was part of the fabric of the organization from the beginning,” says Chris Miskel, the current president of the blood center, which is now called Versiti

Since 1947, Versiti has provided thousands with donated blood – but it has also made major advances in blood research and innovation. Just a few examples: in 1981, scientists at Versiti, in collaboration with the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children’s Hospital, completed the world’s first successful transplant for aplastic anemia using bone marrow from an unrelated blood donor; in 1983, its research produced the first treatment for infants who are Protein C-deficient; and recently it’s helped develop tests to determine the best treatments for von Willebrand  Disease, a bleeding disorder. Currently, its researchers are focused on blood cancers, sickle cell disease and much more. 

Chris Miskel, President and CEO of Versiti; Photo courtesy of Versiti

“There’s really nothing in the country like Versiti,” Miskel says. “I describe it as a house of hematology. All of these scientists are under one roof doing blood research in many different ways – the safety of blood, bleeding and clotting, the immune response of blood, blood cancers – and they’re all collaborating. It’s allowed us to excel and to recruit the best minds in blood
research around.” 

The nonprofit is in the midst of two major expansions right now. First, its main research institute on Watertown Plank Road will have a new space built in the next couple years, with an estimated completion date in 2026. The new space will allow the organization to construct more laboratory areas and hire more scientists to fill them. 

And in March, Versiti is set to open Versiti on King, a new permanent blood center and community resource center in Bronzeville, as part of the ThriveOn King development. 

“Diversity of blood supply is important – there are disorders like sickle-cell disease that disproportionately affect African Americans,” Miskel says. “There’s a real need for diverse donors, and we want to encourage that, while also serving a community that is historically underserved.” 

The center will provide employment and job skills training, disease education and a community health navigator. Miskel says the community health navigator will help people understand their health care needs and how to access the right care. “Versiti has national and international impact – and we’re right here in Milwaukee,” Miskel says. “We’ve been here 77 years, and I’m so proud of the work we’ve done, and everything we have planned for the future.”


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s January issue.

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