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Updated 10:00 AM April 18, 2005




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LSI adds six top scientists to faculty

The Life Sciences Institute (LSI) has hired six additional faculty members, bringing its ranks to 17 and moving the institute closer to its goal of 25-30 scientists. The new cohort, recruited from across the country, adds to LSI's broad array of scientific approaches and disciplines.

The faculty members in the laboratory without walls work in fields such as evolutionary biology, cell biology, human genetics, oncology, pathology and structural biology. Two of the six researchers are in computational biology, a new field of discovery at the interface of biology and information science.

"This influx of highly talented scientists from multiple disciplines showcases Michigan's approach to advancing science. This group is a dynamic microcosm of the key research areas in the LSI," says Alan Saltiel, director. "They expand our universe of talent and will intensify our interactions and collaborations."

The Institute serves as Michigan's hub for collaborative biomedical research on human health problems. Currently 330 researchers work in the LSI on faculty-led teams, including more than 80 students.

"This major recruiting announcement marks tremendous forward momentum in an endeavor that will enrich all life science activities at U-M," says President Mary Sue Coleman. "We are building a team of researchers who will not only advance scientific knowledge, but also contribute significantly to the economic development of the state."

The new faculty are:

Jason E. Gestwicki, who adds to the institute's efforts in small molecule research and drug discovery with his investigations of small molecules that inhibit protein-protein interactions. A study he published last year on using small molecules to block the formation of the amyloid plaques (clumps of protein) that characterize Alzheimer 's disease, was named one of the chemistry highlights of 2004 by the Chemical and Engineering News. Gestwicki also is developing chemical tools for altering and stopping pathogenic interactions, such as the binding between a cell and a virus.

Gestwicki will become an LSI assistant research professor and assistant professor of pathology in the Medical School in July, after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University. He received his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin and was an undergraduate double major in chemistry and recombinant gene technology at the State University of New York-Fredonia.

Dr. Patrick J. Hu, who investigates the genes involved in cancer primarily by using a model organism, the 1 mm nematode worm, C. elegans. Many of the genes that are implicated in cancer have been retained throughout evolution and appear in this worm. By looking at some of the genes and proteins that govern cell-to-cell communication in the worm, Hu plans to generate new ideas about cancer gene function and then test these hypotheses in mouse models of cancer. The ultimate goal would be to identify novel targets for anticancer drugs.

Hu will join LSI in July after completing a Howard Hughes Medical Institute postdoctoral research fellowship at the Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. He will be an assistant research professor and assistant professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology in the Medical School. He completed his medical degree at NYU School of Medicine, performed a residency in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and completed a fellowship in adult oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Hu also has studied classical piano performance at the Robert Schumann Conservatory in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Alexey Kondrashov, who uses computing power to investigate some of the most difficult questions of evolutionary biology, such as how natural selection works at the level of individual proteins and amino acids, and why so many species rely on sexual reproduction. Using computers to compare large bodies of raw biological data from many species, Kondrashov is able to see evolutionary differences through long stretches of biological history. Some of this work relates to human mutations and comparisons between our species and other mammals.

Kondrashov will become a research professor and a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in LSA in summer 2006. He currently serves the National Center for Biotechnology Information of the National Institutes of Health. He previously was an associate professor of ecology & systematics at Cornell University. Kondrashov earned his doctorate in evolutionary genetics at the Pushchino Research Center of the Russia Academy of Science and came to the United States in 1990 as a visiting scientist.

Noah Rosenberg, who uses powerful computers and software to explore the roots and branches of the human family tree, and sifts through key landmarks in the human genome to help sort out how these markers relate to one another between individuals, across continents and through time. Some of this information can, in turn, be used to develop better epidemiology to prevent human health problems. He also is interested in developing mathematical models and statistical tools for application in population genetics.

Rosenberg will join LSI in July as an assistant professor in the Department of Human Genetics in the Medical School. He also will hold appointments as an assistant research professor in LSI and in the Bioinformatics Program. He holds a prestigious Burroughs Wellcome Fellowship—a five-year award for promising researchers in the biomedical sciences. Rosenberg earned a doctorate from Stanford in biological sciences and is completing a postdoctoral fellowship in molecular and computational biology at the University of Southern California.

John Tesmer, who investigates a particular class of protein molecules that carry signals across the membranes of cells. This cell-to-cell communication is significant in sensations of sight and smell, for regulation of blood pressure and heart rate, and for many other physiological events. He also studies the structure and function of enzymes that have been associated with leukemia. Tesmer, who primarily is an X-ray crystallographer, will join LSI's "dream team" of structural biologists in the Center for Structural Biology that is determining the three-dimensional shapes of important biomolecules.

Tesmer will come to the institute in July as an associate research professor and also will hold appointments as associate professor in pharmacology and in the Medical School. He currently is on the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin. Tesmer received his doctorate from Purdue University.

Lois Weisman, who studies how components within a cell are moved to the right place at the right time. This process is a key feature of ordinary cell division and embryonic development and plays a role in many diseases including cancer and diabetes. Her research relies on the model organism baker's yeast (S. cerevisiae).

Weisman, whose appointment is pending final approval by the Board of Regents in May, will join LSI this summer as a research professor and professor in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology in the Medical School. She currently serves on the faculty at the University of Iowa. Weisman earned her doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.

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