Sinisa Hrvatin smiles at camera

Gretchen Ertl/ Whitehead Institute

Whitehead Institute Member Siniša Hrvatin Named a Searle Scholar

Whitehead Institute Member Siniša Hrvatin has been named as one of the 15 researchers to be selected as 2023 Searle Scholars. The Searle Scholars Program supports the research of exceptional young faculty in the biomedical sciences and chemistry.

Chosen by an advisory board of eminent scientists, Searle Scholars are considered among the most creative researchers pursuing careers in academic research. Their investigations address challenging research questions and can lead to new insights that fundamentally change their fields—and to opportunities for translating discoveries into new therapeutics and diagnostics.

“I am truly grateful for the support of the Searle Scholar Program as we embark on this ambitious project,” says Hrvatin, who joined the Institute in 2021 and is also an assistant professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The three-year grant accompanying the award will support his work developing a new animal model for the study of hibernation.

“The ability to maintain nearly constant body temperature is a defining feature of mammalian and avian evolution; but, when challenged by harsh environments, many species decrease body temperature and metabolic rate and initiate energy-conserving states of torpor and hibernation,” Hrvatin notes. “Science has not yet answered the fundamental questions of how mammals initiate, regulate, and survive these extraordinary hypometabolic and hypothermic states.

“However, those answers could have profound medical applications,” he explains. “For example, harnessing the mechanisms behind hibernation might provide new approaches to protect neurons from ischemic injury and to preserve tissues and organs for transplantation.”

In the Searle-supported study, Hrvatin aims to discover a control center in the brain that regulates distinct stages of hibernation in the Syrian hamster. His lab will start by identifying the brain regions active during the deep torpor stage of hibernation and, using molecular profiling techniques, will then identify the specific neuronal populations and molecular pathways involved. Finally, the team will develop new tools to determine specific activities in those neural populations that are necessary for natural hibernation—and that may be sufficient to induce a synthetic state of hibernation.

“Taken together,” Hrvatin says, “I believe that our discoveries and the tools we build will help establish the first controllable animal model of hibernation.”

Since 1981, 677 scientists have been named Searle Scholars and the Program has awarded more than $152 million in support for Scholars’ research. To date, 85 Searle Scholars have been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, 20 have been recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship, and two have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. 



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Sinisa Hrvatin

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