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U-M names director and faculty for Life Sciences Institute

President Mary Sue Coleman has named cell biologist Alan R. Saltiel to be the director of the Life Sciences Institute. She also has announced that six prominent U-M scientists have agreed to join the institute as its “charter faculty."

Alan Saltiel (Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

“Dr. Saltiel is an internationally recognized authority on diabetes, obesity and cellular signaling, and he has experience leading multidisciplinary research teams in the private sector,” Coleman says. “With Alan, we’ve assembled a charter faculty of six creative, thoughtful scientists who are among the very best.”



The charter faculty members will be:
Biochemist Carol A. Fierke, professor of chemistry and biological chemistry.
Geneticist Dr. David Ginsburg, Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Genetics and Internal Medicine, Howard Hughes Investigator.
Organic Chemist Gary D. Glick, Werner E. Bachmann Collegiate Professor of Chemistry and professor of biological chemistry.
Cell biologist Daniel J. Klionsky, professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology and biological chemistry.
Pathologist Dr. John B. Lowe, Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Pathology and Howard Hughes Investigator.
Biochemist Rowena G. Matthews, G. Robert Greenberg Professor of Biological Chemistry, senior research scientist in the Biophysics Research Division.
Cell Biologist Alan R. Saltiel, John Jacob Abel Collegiate Professor in the Life Sciences, professor of internal medicine and physiology, director of the Life Sciences Institute.

“By seeding the institute with these talented faculty from departments across the University, the institute will build upon our strength and ensure that the institute and the rest of the campus benefit in the strongest possible way from each other,” Interim Provost Paul Courant says.

The $100 million, 240,000-square-foot Life Sciences Institute, set to open in fall 2003, is built around a “lab without walls” concept in which researchers from a variety of disciplines will interact and collaborate in shared spaces.

It is considered a new way of doing science at Michigan--one that is needed to explore the difficult and interrelated scientific questions of understanding life at the level of cells and individual molecules. It will house 20 to 30 faculty and their research teams, totaling about 350 people. The charter faculty will move their labs to the institute, but will retain tenured appointments in their respective academic departments.

Saltiel replaces Jack E. Dixon, a biochemist who announced in July that he will be leaving U-M to become dean of scientific affairs at the University of California, San Diego. Saltiel served as associate director of the institute before being named to replace Dixon.

The creation of a high-powered core of charter faculty will accelerate LSI’s recruitment efforts. The charter group will apply their experience and vision “to make this a place people want to work,” biochemist Rowena Matthews says.
The LSI will target three overlapping areas of the vast, post-genomic scientific revolution:

Genetics, genomics and proteomics: Examining the functions and expression patterns of genes and developing nanoscale tools to study gene and protein properties; understanding the molecular basis of disease susceptibility.

Molecular and cellular biology: Investigating the networked organization of genes and proteins in a cell, and determining the ways in which cells sense and adapt to stimuli.

Structural, chemical and computational biology: Exploring and modeling the three-dimensional shapes of genes and proteins with novel physical and computational methods; designing chemicals that change protein properties.

By following the science where it leads, rather than being circumscribed by the definition of a particular discipline, institute scientists are going to find some unexpected discoveries where their work intersects. For example, geneticist David Ginsburg’s work on the specifics of the blood-clotting mechanism in a particular kind of hemophilia has led to some general understanding of how the cell moves proteins around within its machinery. “Studying this obscure human disease, we got a very fundamental insight into how the cell works,” Ginsburg says. “Studying human disease can lead to some basic biological insights.”

Conversely, studying a biologically basic model organism like yeast can lead to some insights into human health, cell biologist Daniel Klionsky says. The mechanism used by yeast to recycle its own contents during a period of starvation happens to be a good model for understanding the molecular defects that may cause human cells to become cancerous, or undergo processes that lead to neurodegenerative disease and some kinds of heart disease, Klionsky says. “We’d like to have a simple living system to look at this in detail.”
The research paths of the charter faculty, and the additional two dozen colleagues they will recruit, should intersect and merge in places over the normal course of research at the institute. At the center of the institute’s three fields lies a deeper understanding of life at the cellular level, Saltiel says. “It’s all of these fields working together that will advance the life sciences into the next level of sophistication,” he says.



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