Whitehead Member Iain Cheeseman named Searle Scholar

May 11, 2009

Tags: Cheeseman LabAwards + Announcements

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. –Whitehead Member Iain Cheeseman has been selected as a 2009 Searle Scholar. 

He is one of 15 award recipients chosen from 178 recently appointed assistant professors in the chemical and biological sciences. The prestigious award provides $300,000 in research support for Cheeseman’s lab distributed over the next three years.

“I am really grateful for this support and recognition from the Searle Foundation,” says Cheeseman. “This award will allow us to continue focusing on our research instead of worrying about funding.  It will have a big impact on the research we have planned.”

“I’m really delighted that Searle has confirmed what all of us at Whitehead already knew about Iain – that he is a creative, bold, ambitious scientist with enormous prospects for the future,” says Whitehead Director David Page, who was a Searle Scholar in 1989.  “This award will provide him with not only valuable support, but also valuable opportunities to form strong connections with many peers and future leaders across the country.”

Cheeseman’s lab focuses on deciphering how the protein complex known as the kinetochore functions in a cell undergoing cell division. In preparation for dividing, a cell copies its DNA and compresses it into bundles called chromatids. A kinetochore protein complex is integrated into each chromatid and acts like a hitch, onto which thin, strong protein filaments hook. These protein filaments, termed “microtubule”, then drag the chromatids to opposite ends of the cell and partition the DNA equally between the two future cells.

Cheeseman, who is also an assistant professor of biology at MIT, has been at the forefront of kinetochore research, helping to identify dozens of the 80-100 individual proteins in the complex and deciphering their specific roles. He is particularly interested in how the kinetochore binds such different molecules as the chromatid’s DNA and the microtubule filaments.

Most recently, Cheeseman identified that a collection of kinetochore proteins, called Ska1, is key for the kinetochore to tightly grip protein filaments. For Cheeseman, this molecular connection between the kinetochore and the protein filaments was one of his field’s great mysteries.

Cheeseman is the sixth Whitehead Member named a Searle Scholar. Others include Peter Reddien (2006), Terry Orr-Weaver (1988), Hazel Sive (1992), and David Bartel (1997).

Since the program began in 1981, 452 Searle Scholars have shared more than $88,640,000 in grants. The funds that support the awards come from trusts established under the wills of John and Frances Searle.

Written by Nicole Giese Rura.

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Iain Cheeseman’s primary affiliation is with Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where his laboratory is located and all his research is conducted. He is also an assistant professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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