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Genetics and pediatrics researcher heads Research Institute

​​​​​​Robert Steiner, M.D., a genetics and pediatrics researcher, in April assumed duties as executive director of Marshfield Clinic Research Institute.

Robert Steiner, M.D.  Executive Director, Marshfield  Clinic Research Foundation Robert Steiner, M.D.
Executive Director, Marshfield
Clinic Research Institute

​​Dr. Steiner, a Milwaukee native, comes to Marshfield from Doernbecher Children's Hospital and the Institute for Developmental Disabilities at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

"He is a great fit for the Research Institute. He has a passion and expertise for research based on improving patient care, a key component of the Clinic's mission," said Brian Ewert, M.D., Clinic president. "We were immediately impressed with his vision for the Institute, his desire to collaborate with others and a leadership style that incorporates the views of others." 

In addition to his role as executive director, Steiner assumes the title of chief science officer for Marshfield Clinic and associate executive director of the Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at the University of Wisconsin.

Dr. Steiner earned his medical degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. He completed a pediatrics residency at Children's Hospital Medical Center and University of Cincinnati and a fellowship in medical genetics from the University of Washington.

"I really wanted to work at the Clinic because it has an outstanding reputation we can build upon," Dr. Steiner said. "With the right mix of vision and strategic planning, partnerships and a lot of careful thought and hard work, there's no limit to what we can do. As exciting as the research going on in the Institute​ is, it was also the people who attracted me."

Dr. Steiner is an active clinician in medical genetics, focusing on metabolic diseases in which chemical processes within the body are altered leading to health problems, and specifically cholesterol deficiency disorders, metabolic bone diseases, and newborn screening. His research has focused on rare diseases.

To him, philanthropy can make a significant impact in research, especially as government funding is reduced. In fact, one of the first things Dr. Steiner did when he arrived at MCRI was join the Hour Club, a giving program that encourages employees to donate an hour of their pay each pay period to support the Clinic's mission.

"If we ask the community to support our research, it is important for us to support it personally as well," he said.

"MCRI has a great history of philanthropy. There is a direct connection between philanthropy and the great work that has come out of the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, I honestly believe we wouldn't be where we are today without philanthropy," Steiner said.

"The ultimate goal for all the research we do at MCRI is to improve the health of the community," he said. "This isn't just busy work; we're passionate about finding new treatments and cures. Research is where innovation comes in, where new treatments are developed and tested."

For example, he had a colleague at his former institution who was told that his research was going nowhere – but through his determination he developed Gleevec. This medication has transformed a deadly form of leukemia to a curable condition.

He also cited other examples where research improved health, such as the discovery of the antibiotic penicillin, which has helped save millions of lives, and the Guthrie Test for newborns, a blood test adapted for screening newborns that can detect genetic conditions, including a disorder that impairs brain development. This test has saved thousands of lives and led to treatments that prevent intellectual disability.

"My inspiration comes from seeing young patients who are healthy because of these effective screenings" he said.

Although Dr. Steiner lived on the west coast for the past 17 years, his roots are in Wisconsin. Having the opportunity to be near family and work for a highly reputable research institution made coming to Marshfield an easy decision. And again being able to hear the Green Bay Packers on the radio didn't hurt, either.

Outside of medicine and research, Dr. Steiner enjoys spending time with his family, which includes his wife, Sam; identical twin daughters, Alex and Libbie, 18; and sons Leo, 15, and Hugh, 12.

He's an avid cyclist and enjoys skiing and reading. Dr. Steiner and his family are founding members of a Portland-area organization that mentors at-risk children. They've been mentoring a child for more than eight years and hope he will visit the family in Marshfield.

Foundation grants make a difference

The Build-A-Bear Workshop Bear Hugs Foundation made a $1,500 commitment to Marshfield Clinic in support of the Reach Out and Read Program, which provides books to children at their well-child visits. 

Reach Out and Read recognizes that 34 percent of American children start kindergarten without the skills they need to learn to read. Children living in low-income communities are especially at risk; those who start out with reading difficulties are more likely to remain poor readers and fall behind in school.

The program prepares America's youngest children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors to prescribe books and encouraging families to read together. Reach Out and Read makes literacy promotion a standard part of pediatric care to ensure children grow up with books and a love of reading

The Build-A-Bear Workshop Bear Hugs Foundation "is committed to making life more bearable for children, families and pets who are in need of a helping paw."

The Keller Family Community Foundation (KFCF) gave Marshfield Clinic $2,000 to buy gas cards for families of children with cancer, who are experiencing financial hardship and are struggling with the transportation cost for their cancer treatments and follow- up visits.

Many of these patients travel repeatedly for their treatment. Providing families in need with gas cards offers tremendous relief during a difficult time.

The KFCF mission is to support research, education and informational activities to increase public awareness, and prevent and treat chronic health conditions and diseases such as cancer, diabetes and depression.

The Tyler Volenec Foundation-Marshfield Area Chapter donated 25 giant Easter baskets this year to ensure that local children and families dealing with cancer were prov​ided extra support. Each basket was stuffed with gift cards, movies, stuffed animals, toys, games and snacks.

Bob and Sue Volenec, of Loyal, launched the Foundation's Marshfield Chapter to support the original Tyler Volenec Foundation, created in 1999. Bob's youngest brother, James Volenec, and his wife Megan began the foundation in the Chicago area to honor their son, Tyler, who died from leukemia when he was 2 years old.

When the baskets were delivered, Sue Volenec was fortunate to meet and visit with a few of the patients.

"One of the patients was lying down when we came through the door with the baskets," Sue Volenec said. "As soon as she saw the gifts, she popped up, wanting to get the bag open. She told us it was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for her. We're truly blessed to be able to help these children, and it means the world to see them happy."

To date, the Marshfield Chapter has given more than 210 Easter baskets to children receiving treatments at the Clinic and Ministry Saint Joseph's Hospital. The group also distributes Valentine's Day gift bags, honoring the day Tyler Volenec lost his battle with cancer. More than 175 bags have been distributed locally.​