Whitehead Member David Sabatini wins HHMI appointment

May 27, 2008

Tags: Sabatini LabAwards + Announcements

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Whitehead Member David Sabatini has been appointed a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator, a highly sought-after post that recognizes the nation’s top biomedical scientists by providing long-term, flexible funding in support of creativity and intellectual daring. Sabatini will remain at Whitehead Institute while HHMI supports a large percentage of his research.

“David’s selection as an HHMI investigator in an extraordinarily competitive national competition is a validation of everything we’ve known about David,” says Whitehead Director David Page, who is also an HHMI Investigator. “Watching his scientific development, first as a Whitehead Fellow and then coming up the faculty ranks, we have long known that he’s truly a scientific leader and that he has limitless potential. His HHMI appointment is recognition of all those things.”

Sabatini, also an associate professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is one of 56 scientists chosen from among 1,070 applicants. “These 56 scientists will bring new and innovative ways of thinking about biology to the HHMI community,” says HHMI president Thomas R. Cech. “They are poised to advance scientific knowledge dramatically in the coming years and we are committed to providing them with the freedom and flexibility to do so.”

As a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, Sabatini investigated the powerful immunosuppressant rapamycin, by exposing cells to the drug and monitoring its effects. This led him to discover that rapamycin blocks the activity of a protein complex called mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), now established as a crucial player in cell growth.

“My initial interest in mTOR as a pathway bound by the drug rapamycin started out somewhat as a curiosity,” says Sabatini. “Now, mTOR has been shown to be a master regulator of many fundamental processes in the cell including growth. Increasingly we recognize that these processes are also deregulated in diseases, in particular cancer.”

Several years ago Sabatini’s lab discovered that mTOR exists in two distinct multi-protein complexes. The first complex regulates the size of a cell, while the second complex regulates cell division and survival. The lab went on to identify an unexpected role for mTOR, discovering that mTOR activates a prominent cancer protein involved in cell proliferation. Last week, Sabatini’s lab found yet another new piece of the mTOR puzzle, shedding light on how nutrients regulate mTOR signaling to control cell size.

Sabatini and colleagues also have developed tools tailored to explore this intricate growth-triggering pathway. These include genome-wide RNA interference libraries, high throughput cell-based microarrays and cell-analysis imaging software.

“One of my lab’s biggest contributions has been identifying the pieces of this pathway and showing that their function matters for diseases,” Sabatini says. “The HHMI appointment will enable me to continue my work in this area as well use the information we have gained to study normal and pathological growth at the organismal level.”

Sabatini joins three other Whitehead Members who are HHMI investigators: David Bartel, Susan Lindquist and David Page. Altogether, 28 Whitehead alumni or current researchers are among the roughly 300 current HHMI Investigators. Widely recognized for their creativity and productivity, today’s Investigators include 12 Nobel laureates and 124 members of the National Academy of Sciences. They also include David Sabatini’s brother Bernardo Sabatini, a Harvard Medical School neurobiologist.

HHMI Whitehead Alumni

Below are Whitehead alumni among current Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators, with their Whitehead lab and current affiliation.

Frederick W. Alt (Baltimore lab), Children’s Hospital, Boston
Angelika Amon
(former Whitehead Fellow), MIT
Cornelia Bargmann
(Weinberg lab), Rockefeller University
David Bartel, Whitehead
Douglas Black
(Baltimore lab), University of California/Los Angeles
Constance L. Cepko
(Mulligan lab), Harvard Medical School
David Chan
(Kim lab), California Institute of Technology
George Daley
(former Whitehead Fellow), Children’s Hospital Boston
Steven Dowdy
(Weinberg lab), University of California/San Diego
Todd Golub
(Whitehead/MIT Genome Center), Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Broad Institute
Tyler Jacks
(Weinberg lab), MIT
Leonid Kruglyak
(Whitehead/MIT Genome Center), Princeton University
Bruce Lahn
(Page lab), University of Chicago
Jeannie Lee
(Jaenisch lab), Harvard Medical School
Ruth Lehmann
(former Whitehead Member), New York University
Susan Lindquist, Whitehead
Erin K. O'Shea
(Kim lab), Harvard University
David C. Page,
David Pellman
(Fink lab), Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School
G. Shirleen Roeder
(Fink lab), Yale University
David Sabatini,
David G. Schatz
(Baltimore lab), Yale University
Brenda A. Schulman
(Kim lab), St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Julie Theriot
(former Whitehead Fellow), Stanford University
Thomas Tuschl
(Bartel lab), Rockefeller University
Jonathan S. Weissman
(Kim lab), University of California/San Francisco
Phil Zamore
(Lehmann/Bartel/Sharp labs), University of Massachusetts Medical School
Charles S. Zuker
(Lodish lab), University of California/San Diego

Written by Cristin Carr.

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David Sabatini's primary affiliation is with Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where his laboratory is located and all his research is conducted. He is also a professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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