Susan Lindquist wins HHMI Collaborative Innovation Award

November 20, 2008

Tags: Jaenisch LabLindquist LabAwards + Announcements

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Whitehead Member and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator Susan Lindquist has been awarded a Collaborative Innovation Award, part of a four year, $40 million pilot project launched by the HHMI. 

Lindquist was chosen to lead a team of collaborators whose diverse expertise extends outside HHMI and enables projects that explore a wide range of transformative research areas. Her team will investigate strategies to target the biological mechanisms that break down in Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Eight teams, selected from among 62 proposals for the pilot project, will bring together a total of 33 researchers from 16 institutions in the United States and Chile.

“We’re excited about this program because of the quality of the projects, but also because it broadens the community of scientists supported by the HHMI,” says Thomas R. Cech, HHMI president.  “It lets us do something really new.”

According to the HHMI, Lindquist, an expert on protein folding, has assembled a “scientific dream team.”   Among team members is stem cell pioneer and Whitehead Member Rudolf Jaenisch.  His expertise with embryonic-stem-cell-like cells called induced pluripotent stem cells will aid the team’s investigation of dopamine-producing neurons that are attacked in Parkinson’s and related neurodegenerative diseases. 

Other members of the team include Richard Myers, who studies the genetics of Parkinson’s disease at Boston University School of Public Health; Guy Caldwell at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, who has developed roundworm models of dopamine-producing neuron degeneration; and Jean-Christophe Rochet of Purdue University, whose research probes how the buildup of misfolded proteins damages nerve cells.

The team plans to exploit the powerful tools available to study gene function in three model organisms–yeast, worms and mice–and will integrate genetic data from large-scale studies of people who have Parkinson’s disease.  They also will explore new stem cell technologies to generate cellular and animal models that can aid in screening for new drug therapies to treat neurodegenerative conditions.

“The idea behind our project is to transition to a new era in medicine,” declares Lindquist.

“To study many of today’s scientific problems with the kind of depth that is needed, you have to be willing to explore areas in which you are not an expert,’’ says Jack Dixon, HHMI’s vice president and chief scientific officer.  “This award permits HHMI investigators to assemble the team of experts they need to attack these complex scientific problems.”

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