May 27, 2008
Four faculty named as Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators
Four Stanford researchers have joined the ranks of investigators for the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). They join the 14 current HHMI investigators at Stanford, 11 of which are at the School of Medicine. There are 304 HHMI investigators nationwide.
Stanford's new HHMI investigators are:
Mark Schnitzer, assistant professor of biology and of applied physics. His research group is seeking to understand normal cognitive and disease processes at the level of neural circuits. They use tiny fiber-optic microscopes he designed, barely larger than a human hair, to focus on individual neurons or networks of several hundred brain cells. He is working on a "massively parallel" imaging system to simultaneously image the brains of 100 fruit flies.
Kang Shen, assistant professor of biology. Shen's research team is working to understand how neurons in the brain choose with which other neurons to form synaptic connections. As a postdoctoral researcher at HHMI, Shen discovered that a particular protein played a critical role in how synapses form in the nematode worm C. elegans. He is now working on deciphering mechanisms of synapse formation in higher animals, in addition to continuing his work in nematodes.
Seung K. Kim, associate professor of developmental biology. His lab studies the development of the pancreas with the goal of translating that research into treatments for diseases such as diabetes and pancreatic cancer. He works with stem and progenitor cells to replace pancreatic function, studies how insulin-producing beta cells proliferate and dissects the development of cells that control blood sugar in flies and mice.
Julie Theriot, associate professor of biochemistry and of microbiology and immunology. Her lab studies the interaction between pathogenic bacteria and their human hosts. They use genetics, biochemistry, video imaging and mathematical models to understand how the bacteria recruit structural proteins in the host to move through the cell. The work could lead to new drugs to block bacterial infection.
The Stanford researchers are among the 56 scientists appointed from a pool of 1,070 applicants. The goal of the program is to allow the nation's most creative biomedical scientists the freedom to tackle ambitious and risky research. Investigators are not bound to a particular project in their research and are free to change direction.