Stanford faculty named in first cohort of Chan Zuckerberg Biohub investigators

The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub has announced 19 Stanford faculty among its first cohort of 47 investigators from Bay Area university collaborators. These investigators will work toward curing, preventing and managing every disease.

The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub committed more than $50 million to support 47 of the best investigators from Bay Area universities, including 19 from Stanford University. The investigators each receive five-year appointments worth up to $1.5 million to carry out non-conventional scientific exploration and to invent new tools to accelerate the pace of discovery.

Researchers in lab

Nineteen Stanford scientists are among the 47 Bay Area investigators who will receive five-year appointments from the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub for innovative disease research. (Image credit: Tyler Mallory/Chan Zuckerberg Biohub)

“The 47 CZ Biohub Investigators we’re introducing today are quite literally inventing the future of life science research,” said Stephen Quake, co-president of CZ Biohub and professor of bioengineering and applied physics at Stanford. “The CZ Biohub is distinguished by our emphasis on technology and engineering, and our researchers are inventing tools to accelerate science for the good of humanity.” Quake is co-president with Joseph DeRisi, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco.

The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub is a nonprofit medical independent research organization created by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as a collaboration among Stanford University, UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley. In addition to its Investigator Program, the CZ Biohub is pursuing large-scale collaborative projects, including the Infectious Disease Initiative, directed by Peter Kim, professor of biochemistry at Stanford, and the Cell Atlas. It will also provide a physical space at its main facility in the San Francisco Mission Bay and at a smaller facility on the Stanford campus.

Accelerating science

Investigators from the three universities will meet multiple times throughout the year to exchange ideas. Lucy Shapiro, who received one of the senior investigator awards, said that bringing faculty together in this way builds on existing strengths at the three universities enabling novel synergies.

“We want to go out there and do innovative work and apply it in a way that no one has ever done before,” said Shapiro, a professor of developmental biology at Stanford. “Now collaborating and meeting regularly with colleagues at UCSF and UC Berkeley cannot help but widen our vision and our ability to do truly breakthrough work.”

One of the requirements for all funded investigators is that they make manuscripts available online through the open access portal BioRxiv ahead of publication in a journal. This step makes data available to other scientists months or even years faster, accelerating the speed of science. “This way I get my work out there and other people can build on what I’m learning, and in turn, I get valuable feedback,” Shapiro said.

CZ Biohub is supporting experienced senior faculty and also up-and-coming junior faculty. The Stanford faculty named as Chan Zuckerberg Biohub investigators are:

Senior investigators

Carlos Bustamante, PhD, professor of biomedical data science and of genetics.

Bustamante is making the transition from population genetics to a new area, the integration and analysis of massive data coming from consumer, health care and financial sources. He is especially interested in bringing together direct-to-consumer genetics and phenotype data in a secure space that can be explored by academic, industry and citizen scientists.

Judith Frydman, PhD, professor of biology and of genetics.

Frydman uses multidisciplinary approaches to gain a comprehensive understanding of the complex networks mediating protein homeostasis, the maintenance of protein quality. She plans to map the proteostasis network involving more than a thousand proteins and use this information to develop a new class of therapeutic agents for dengue, Zika and other viral diseases.

Brian Kobilka, MD, professor in molecular and cellular physiology.

Kobilka’s pioneering X-ray crystallographic studies have revealed how the binding of a hormone to the extracellular pocket on a G-protein coupled receptor is transmitted across the cell membrane to trigger a signaling cascade. He is now carrying out structural studies of opioid receptors to identify more effective painkillers with fewer side effects.

Jure Leskovec, PhD, associate professor of computer science.

Leskovec studies massive complex networks at a very wide range of scales, from interactions of proteins in a cell to interactions between humans in a society. He is devising new computational network tools to enhance patient care through social support, facilitate the diagnosis of disease by wearable sensors and promote positive behaviors conveyed by social networks.

Ada Poon, PhD, associate professor of electrical engineering.

Poon aims to find new ways of miniaturizing bioelectronic devices, targeting specific neural circuits in vivo, and supporting closed-loop monitoring and manipulation of neural circuits. Her bioelectronics platform integrates electrical stimulation and recording with optogenetic stimulation and will be used to study neural circuits in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.

Matthew Porteus, MD, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics (stem cell transplantation).

Porteus uses genome editing as curative therapy for genetic diseases, as exemplified by his correction of the mutation in sickle cell disease in hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells. He is now combining genome editing with synthetic biology to engineer cells having new phenotypic properties, such as engineering resistance to HIV and enhancing wound healing.

Lucy Shapiro, PhD, professor of developmental biology.

Shapiro has established the bacterium Caulobacter cresentus as a powerful model organism for understanding self-organization and spatially controlled differentiation leading to daughter cells with different cell fates. She is developing a reaction-diffusion model that includes all essential cellular processes to gain a deeper understanding of asymmetric cell division and cell polarity.

Christina Smolke, PhD, associate professor of bioengineering.

Smolke is engineering yeast to produce complex, valuable plant-inspired medicinal compounds like those widely used as antihypertensives and anticancer agents. She interacts with experts in plant-specialized metabolism to identify gene clusters that can be inserted into her optimized yeast platform to accelerate the discovery of new therapeutic agents.

Tom Soh, PhD, professor of radiology and of electrical engineering.

Soh has devised sensors capable of continuously monitoring specific biomolecules in vivo and a control system for achieving real-time closed-loop controlled drug delivery in live animals. He plans to generate detection systems for hitherto untargetable biomolecules and to develop real time sensors that can be implanted in vivo to detect multiple biomolecules that are medically important.

Alice Ting, PhD, professor of genetics.

Ting develops, scales up and broadly disseminates molecular technologies for mapping cells and functional circuits, as illustrated by her biotin-based method for protein mapping in living cells. She is devising methods for identifying the ensemble of neurons that encode or control a specific memory, behavior or emotional state by using a light- and calcium-gated transcription factor.

Junior investigators

Catherine Blish, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine (infectious diseases).

Blish aims to build an atlas of host-pathogen interactions to serve as a template to elicit immune responses that will promote pathogen eradication. She seeks to understand how to control the innate immune response mediated by NK and other cells to eliminate infections and develop more potent methods of protection.

Adam de la Zerda, PhD, assistant professor of structural biology.

De la Zerda’s goal is to image 100 million cells in living tissues at single-cell resolution by using optical coherence tomography. One of the potential uses of his technique will be to visualize cancer markers to delineate the margins of tumors.

Polly Fordyce, PhD, assistant professor of genetics and of bioengineering.

Fordyce will develop new biochip technologies for high-throughput functional characterization of proteins to enhance our ability to predict the function of a protein given its amino acid sequence. Her aim is to characterize the properties of more than a thousand proteins, such as enzymes and transcription factors, in a single experiment.

William Greenleaf, PhD, assistant professor of genetics.

Greenleaf studies the physical and spatial organization of the human genome at multiple scales and across different biological states. His aim is to unravel the quantitative relations between regulatory elements and gene expression in a massive parallel way to generate a quantitative model of the regulatory wiring of cells.

Manu Prakash, PhD, assistant professor of bioengineering.

Prakash develops measurement tools, such as ultra-low-cost microscopy platforms for field diagnostics of infectious diseases, for use in extreme resource-poor areas of the world. His aim is to devise new frugal platforms for the diagnosis and surveillance of schistosomiasis, leishmaniasis and malaria.

Elizabeth Sattely, PhD, assistant professor of chemical engineering.

Sattely plans to merge engineering and detailed knowledge of plant biochemical pathways to enhance human health. Her specific goal is to engineer strains of the most widely consumed dietary plants, such as maize and wheat, to improve their nutrient content and to then test the effect of a diet rich in these strains on the health of rodents.

Taia Wang, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine (infectious disease).

Wang studies human immunity and susceptibility to viral pathogens such as dengue virus. Her research is driven by the finding that humans have diverse immunoglobulin Fc domains that affect the severity of viral diseases and the effectiveness of vaccines.

Ellen Yeh, MD, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry, of pathology and of microbiology and immunology.

Yeh studies the apicoplast, a unique organelle in Plasmodium falciparum parasites, to identify new targets for the prevention and therapy of malaria. She aims to comprehensively identify the apicoplast proteome and to understand the novel secretory pathways of this unusual plastid in her search for novel therapeutic targets.

James Zou, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical data science.

Zou develops novel machine learning tools that enable researchers to make complex predictions and quantify disease mechanisms using population genomics and epigenomics data. He is devising new deep learning models to increase the accuracy of predicting genetic risk from genotypes and of identifying distinct cell populations based on single cell transcriptional profiles.

All 47 investigators are listed on the Biohub website.