Our Mission and History

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Our Mission

CellBio@HMS is where innovative approaches are used to unravel the mysteries of cellular machines and organismal physiology, where barriers to mechanistic understanding are broken, and where diverse scientists are supported in an inclusive environment of learning, scholarship, and collaboration.

Our History

Today's Department of Cell Biology was created in 1993, after the merger of two departments: Anatomy & Cellular Biology and Cellular & Molecular Physiology. Anatomy & Cellular Biology had been chaired by Betty Hay since 1975, while the Cellular & Molecular Physiology department had been led by Howard Green since 1980. Both Betty and Howard continued to carry out their research in the newly formed department until their retirements in 2005 and 2015, respectively. Today's faculty includes several members hailing from the original anatomy and physiology departments: Dan Finley, John Flanagan, Fred Goldberg, Tomas Kirchhausen, Bjorn Olsen, Robin Reed, and Malcolm Whitman.

Cell Biology's inaugural chair was Marc Kirschner, who served until he stepped down to create the Department of Systems Biology in 2003. Under Marc's leadership, numerous new junior and senior faculty were recruited, including current members Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas, Joan Brugge, Steve Gygi, Randy King, Danesh Moazed, Tom Rapoport, Bruce Spiegelman, Davie Van Vactor, and Junying Yuan.

Cell Biology's second department chair was Joan Brugge, who was appointed interim chair in 2003 and served as chair from 2004 to 2014. Current faculty members Nika Danial, Bob Farese, Marcia Haigis, Wade Harper, Maofu Liao, Steve Liberles, David Pellman, Pere Puigserver, Adrian Salic, and Tobi Walther were all hired and recruited under Joan's watch. In 2014, Joan stepped down to become the Co-Director of the Ludwig Center at Harvard Medical School and was succeeded by Wade Harper. Since then, our department has welcomed several additional faculty members: Ed Chouchani, Chris Sander, and Susan Shao, with Amy Lee and Lucas Farnung joining in 2021.

Our Research and Educational Priorities

Over these past two decades, CellBio@HMS has established itself as a premier department worldwide. The national and international standing of our department reflects a strong commitment to excellence in faculty recruitment and promotion, significant investment in cutting-edge technology, and efforts to build and maintain a vibrant and inclusive community. Through fundamental discoveries of molecular mechanisms, we strive to explain how cells perform their essential functions. Additionally, many of our faculty are dedicated to translating their discoveries for therapeutic benefit.

We also recognize that new discoveries are made at the leading edge of technological development, so we prioritize efforts to be at the forefront of innovations that allow the analysis of cells and molecules at increasingly higher spatial and temporal resolution. Our department created numerous core faciliites that continue to be used by the entire local research community, including the NIC@HMS (2001), ICCB-Longwood Screening Facility (1998), Taplin Mass Spectrometry Facility (2001), and Thermo Center for Multiplex Proteomics at Harvard (2014).The rapid evolution of imaging, proteomic, and gene-editing approaches is leading to dramatic improvements in our ability to query gene function in cells and animals and reconstituted systems in vitro.

In addition to these research objectives, our faculty play leadership roles in training the next generation of research scientists and physicians at HMS and beyond, through innovative graduate, postdoctoral, and medical training programs. Our flagship graduate level course (CB201) has been a mainstay of graduate education for years, and we have the oldest (now in year 45) and largest NIH T32 training grant on the HMS campus. Cell Biology has also played an important role in the creation of several graduate programs, including: (1) the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) umbrella graduate program; (2) the interdepartmental Developmental and Regenerative Biology (DRB) program; and (3) the collaborative effort to form a Harvard-wide consortium in Cancer Biology training. Faculty in the department also play important roles in the Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC) through involvement and leadership of the Cancer Cell Biology Program, one of 3 basic science efforts within the DF/HCC. We have also contributed to the creation of the Curriculum Fellows Program (CFP), a postdoctoral training program for those interested in pursuing teaching careers, and we also develop new educational formats, including Nanocourses, a mechanism for teaching advanced research topics and methodologies.

For over 20 years, our department played an instrumental role in the New Pathway medical student curriculum, which sought to integrate cell biology and biochemistry with disease. In particular, our faculty taught in "Molecular and Cellular Basis of Medicine (MCM)", which was one of the highest rated courses for medical students. Our faculty also played critical leadership roles in the 2015 effort to completely reimagine medical education through the development of the Foundations and Advanced Integrated Science Courses within the Pathways curriculum.

Cell Bio by the Numbers

  • >340 faculty, staff, postdocs, students, and affiliates
  • ~40 graduate students
  • 5 active HHMI investigators
  • 5 active Fellows of the Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 5 active Fellows of the American Society for Cell Biology
  • 4 active Members of the National Academy of Sciences
  • 10 centers, cores, facilities, & initiatives

About Harvard Medical School

Harvard Medical School has been synonymous with excellence in education, research, and clinical care for generations. Our mission, to alleviate human suffering caused by disease, extends to all members of society and all corners of the globe. Since the School was established in 1782, faculty members have improved human health by innovating in their roles as scholars, physicians, and mentors. They have piloted educational models, developed new curricula to address emerging needs in health care, and produced thousands of leaders and compassionate caregivers who are shaping the fields of science and medicine throughout the world with their expertise and passion.

Creativity fuels the engine of discovery at HMS, where more than 11,000 faculty members direct research to advance the boundaries of knowledge. Faculty members have been making paradigm-shifting discoveries and achieving “firsts” since 1800, when Professor Benjamin Waterhouse introduced the smallpox vaccine to the United States. Their accomplishments are recognized internationally: 15 researchers have shared in 9 Nobel prizes for work completed while at the School. HMS is also currently home to 32 Investigators and 6 Faculty Scholars of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and 74 members of the National Academy of Sciences.

Our work takes place on the School’s Boston campus and across the metropolitan area at 15 Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals and research institutes: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Hebrew SeniorLife, Joslin Diabetes Center, Judge Baker Children’s Center, Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Schepens Eye Research Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, McLean Hospital, Mount Auburn Hospital, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network and VA Boston Healthcare System. The School’s main Quadrangle houses 187 tenured and tenure-track faculty members in 11 basic and social science departments. These departments support 800+ graduate students and 950+ postdoctoral fellows.

With its vast reservoir of talent, extensive network of affiliates and commitment to problem solving, HMS is uniquely positioned to steer research and education in directions that will benefit local, national, and global communities.