September 18, 2002

Director and faculty named for Life Sciences Institute

ANN ARBOR— President Mary Sue Coleman has named cell biologist Alan R. Saltiel Ph.D. to be the Director of the Life Sciences Institute at the University of Michigan, pending approval of the Board of Regents. She has also announced that six prominent U-M scientists have agreed to join the institute as its "charter faculty."

The appointments establish the Institute’s scientific direction and give its recruitment efforts great momentum as LSI moves toward its September 2003 opening. The charter faculty members will be:

· Biochemist Carol A. Fierke Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry and Biological Chemistry.
· Geneticist David Ginsburg, M.D., Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Genetics and Internal Medicine, Howard Hughes Investigator.
· Organic Chemist Gary D. Glick, Ph.D., Werner E. Bachmann Collegiate Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Biological Chemistry.
· Cell biologist Daniel J. Klionsky, Ph.D., Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and Biological Chemistry.
· Pathologist John B. Lowe, M.D., Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Pathology and Howard Hughes Investigator.
· Biochemist Rowena G. Matthews, Ph.D., G. Robert Greenberg Professor of Biological Chemistry, Senior Research Scientist in the Biophysics Research Division.
· Cell Biologist Alan R. Saltiel, Ph.D., John Jacob Abel Collegiate Professor in the Life Sciences, Professor of Internal Medicine and Physiology, Director of the Life Sciences Institute.

(Thumbnail biographies below)

"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," President Coleman said. "He has a tremendous reputation in both academic and private pharmaceutical research, and he’s just the sort of energetic, inquisitive researcher this Institute has been built for."

"With Alan, we’ve assembled a charter faculty of six creative, thoughtful scientists who are among the very best," Coleman said. "They were chosen to carry out the vision of creating a new kind of science at Michigan by breaking down the traditional walls of academic departments. The University is building a spectacular new facility to house this Institute and launching it with a core of distinguished researchers who will provide the gravitational pull to recruit more scientific superstars to Ann Arbor."

"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," said Interim Provost Paul Courant.

The $100 million, 240,000 square foot Life Sciences Institute is built around a "lab without walls" concept where 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 which 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 be moving their labs to the Institute, but retaining tenured appointments in their respective academic departments.

Saltiel replaces Jack E. Dixon Ph.D., 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 had 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," said biochemist Rowena Matthews.

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 said. "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, said cell biologist Daniel Klionsky. 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 said. "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 explained. "It’s all of these fields working together that will advance the life sciences into the next level of sophistication," Saltiel said.


The LSI Charter Faculty

The new director and charter faculty of the University of Michigan’s Life Sciences Institute are dynamic, revered in their fields, and on the cutting edge.

"Each of the charter faculty are prominent in at least one of these three major research areas LSI is pursuing, and all of them are doing work that touches on the other spheres as well," said Institute Director Alan R. Saltiel. "The whole concept of this Institute is to blur traditional distinctions and to follow the science wherever it might lead. Often, to do that, you need to collaborate with colleagues who have a different perspective. We’re building a diverse team of scientists who complement each other."


Carol A. Fierke Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry and Biological Chemistry.
A chemist who has spent her career working at the interface with biology, Fierke studies enzymes, the chemical catalysts of living systems. One focus of her current work is the ubiquitous metal zinc and the role it plays in chemical catalysis and regulation. She wants to understand how zinc levels are regulated and what functions the metal plays in mammalian cells. New treatments to regulate zinc concentrations may decrease neuron injury that occurs after stroke, hemorrhage, seizures or brain trauma. Her lab is also investigating an enzyme that puts fat-based "tags," much like mailing labels, onto proteins to direct them from the cell’s interior to its outer membrane. And she’s looking at enzymes that catalyze key metabolic reactions in bacteria. Research in these areas may point to new methods for interrupting the operation of cancer cells and for developing new antibiotics.


David Ginsburg, M.D., Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Medicine, Professor of Genetics and Internal Medicine, Howard Hughes Investigator.
As a physician specializing in blood disorders and genetics, Ginsburg studies the genetics and molecular biology of blood clotting. There is a complex cascade of chemical signals that forms a clot quickly to staunch bleeding from a wound, but these signals are also controlled well enough that they don’t normally careen out of control and create clots where they’d be damaging. "It’s got to be just right," Ginsburg says. He is studying human families with bleeding disorders like hemophilia and mice with genetic "knockouts" to tease apart the complex interactions of biomolecules that control the clotting response.

Gary D. Glick, Ph.D., Werner E. Bachmann Collegiate Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Biological Chemistry.
Glick is using the tools of synthetic chemistry to develop a deeper understanding of cellular biology. One portion of his research is looking at the structure, folding and dynamics of DNA and its messenger, RNA. Related to this work is a project to explore immune system proteins that bind to DNA in inflammatory diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. This research has led to the discovery of a new family of molecules with the promise of being better treatments for lupus and related disorders. His closest collaborations are with medical school faculty rather than fellow chemists, and many of his graduate students are in a combined MD/PhD program. Alan Saltiel calls him "a biologist’s chemist."


Daniel J. Klionsky, Ph.D., Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and Biological Chemistry.
Klionsky uses baker’s yeast as a model organism to study how proteins are moved around the cell with great specificity, and how the organelles, machines within the cell, develop and do their work. Sorting the proteins out so that they go to the proper organelle and do the right job is essential to the proper functioning of the cell, but little is understood about it. Klionsky’s work also explores "autophagy," the main protein disassembly and recycling system inside the cell, and how it responds to starvation conditions by cannibalizing parts of the cell. This work offers intriguing clues into a variety of human diseases, including cancer, cardiomyopathy (weakening and enlargement of the heart) and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.


John B. Lowe, M.D., Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Medicine, Professor of Pathology and Howard Hughes Investigator.
As a post-doctoral fellow in pathology, Lowe became intrigued by the complex carbohydrates that coat the outside of animal cells. Although these sugar molecules are the cell's first line of interaction with its environment, almost nothing was known at the time about their functions. In two decades of subsequent work, Lowe and his colleagues have isolated genes that control the assembly of complex carbohydrates, and used these genes to uncover functions for these molecules in the immune system. Working at the intersection of immunology and carbohydrate biology, Lowe continues to explore complex carbohydrate assembly and function using genetically altered mice, and cells grown in the laboratory. His research is shedding light on cellular signaling processes, and on inflammatory diseases like arthritis, psoriasis and hardening of the arteries.


Rowena G. Matthews, Ph.D., G. Robert Greenberg Professor of Biological Chemistry and Senior Research Scientist in the Biophysics Research Division, Member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ever since she was a Radcliffe undergrad working in the lab of a future Nobel prizewinner, Matthews has studied the biochemicals we call vitamins and their role in the chemical reactions of the cell. A decade ago, her work crossed paths with findings from clinical medicine that heart disease was linked to elevated blood levels of an amino acid called homocysteine. Matthews’ work on riboflavin and folic acid has helped determine how homocysteine levels can be controlled, even in patients who have a genetic mutation that could lead to harmful levels of the amino acid. Neural tube birth defects are also linked to the function of folic acid. Matthew’s work has contributed to the recommendation that all people — especially pregnant women — should consume more folic acid. Since folic acid supplements were recommended, blood levels of homocysteine in Americans have fallen by an average of 20 percent, which may lower the risk of heart disease.


Alan R. Saltiel, Ph.D. , Director, Life Sciences Institute, John Jacob Abel Collegiate Professor in the Life Sciences, and Professor of Internal Medicine and Physiology.
Saltiel’s trailblazing work on the hormone Insulin and its role in regulating cellular sugar levels has expanded into an investigation of how cells send and receive signals. "Cell signaling encompasses everything from the cell surface to the nucleus and everything in between," Saltiel says. "It’s not new — it’s been hot for a long time — but there’s so much to learn." Saltiel’s laboratory has pioneered the concept that cell signaling is confined to defined pathways within the cell, adding another level of complexity to our understanding of cellular regulation. A 1995 paper he co-authored on cellular signaling remains the most cited paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Citation rates are an indicator of a paper’s significance.) Much of his career has been spent in private-sector pharmaceutical work, most recently with Warner Lambert/Parke-Davis in Ann Arbor. Saltiel joined the Institute in March 2001 as its first faculty member.

# # #


Media: Photographs related to this story>>

Contact: Karl Leif Bates (Life Sciences Communications)
Phone: 734-647-1842