Whitehead Member Iain Cheeseman awarded Young Investigator grant

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Whitehead Member Iain Cheeseman has been awarded a Young Investigator grant from the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP).

The grant will fund a team including Cheeseman to study how a structural scaffold of proteins, called the spindle matrix, prepares a cell for cell division. The collaboration is headed by Helder Maiato, from the Institute for Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Portugal, and also includes Matthias Weiss, from the Cellular Biophysics Group at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, Germany. The team will receive $350,000 per year for the next three years.

“This grant brings the three of us together to work on one project in a way that simply would not have been possible for just one lab to conduct,” say Cheeseman. “Not only will it be great to work together on this project, but it will create a relationship that will allow us to continue to collaborate into the future.”

As required by the grant, the funding will support research that differs from the rest of Cheeseman’s work. His lab focuses on deciphering how the protein complex known as the kinetochore functions in a cell undergoing cell division. In preparation for division, 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 the Ska1 complex, that is key for the kinetochore to tightly grip protein filaments.

Cheeseman is the first Whitehead researcher to be awarded the competitive Young Investigator grant. Founded in 1989 by an international group of scientists and politicians and headquartered in France, HFSP supports basic research on complex biological mechanisms through multiple grants and fellowships, including the Young Investigator grants. These competitive grants are distributed to international teams of researchers who have all started their labs within the past five years. This year, Young Investigator grants were awarded in support of nine collaborations.

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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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