Developmental Biology

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Tomas Kirchhausen

Tomas Kirchhausen
Springer Family Chair (BCH)
Senior Investigator, Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine (BCH)
Professor of Cell Biology
Professor of Pediatrics

The Kirchhausen Lab focuses on understanding processes that mediate and regulate cellular membrane remodeling, the biogenesis of organelles, and the ways by which viruses, biologicals and oligonucleotides are delivered to the cell interior. 

By direct observation of molecular events obtained using Lattice Light Sheet Microscopy and Lattice Light Sheet Microscopy optimized with Adaptive Optics (AO-LLSM), frontier optical-imaging modalities with high temporal resolution and spatial precision, we aim to bridge the gap between molecules and cells, either as independent entities in culture, as components of organoids, or as constituents of living tissues. The richness and magnitude of the big-data obtained over periods ranging from seconds to hours create new challenges for obtaining quantitative representations of the observed dynamics and for deriving accurate and comprehensive models for the underlying developmental mechanisms. With these type of dynamic studies we expect to integrate molecular snapshots obtained at molecular and atomic resolution using cryoEM with live-cell processes, in an effort to generate ‘molecular movies' allowing us to obtain frameworks for analyzing some of the molecular contacts and switches that participate in the regulation, availability, and intracellular traffic of the many molecules involved in signal transduction, immune responsiveness, lipid homeostasis, cell-cell recognition and organelle biogenesis. Such biological phenomena have importance for our understanding of many diseases including cancer, viral infection and pathogen invasion, Alzheimer's, as well as other neurological diseases.

Adrian Salic

Adrian Salic
Professor of Cell Biology

Adrian Salic, Ph.D. was appointed Assistant Professor of Cell Biology in 2005, after completing his postdoctoral research in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School. He received his PhD from Harvard University in 2000. His development of novel tools to detect DNA and RNA synthesis resulted in the creation of the commerically-available "Click-iT" EdU and EU kits that are now widely used by labs around the world.

The Salic lab studies biochemical and cellular mechanisms involved in signal transduction through the Hedgehog signaling pathway. We also develop and apply new chemical technologies to study the cell biology of lipids.

Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas

Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas
Professor Emeritus of Cell Biology
Professeur au Collège de France

Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Cell Biology but continues to maintain a research group. He received his doctoral degree at Cambridge University, England and pursued postdoctoral research at the University of Basel, Switzerland, and Stanford University. He has been a faculty member at Harvard Medical School's Cell Biology department since 1998, and was Chief Scientific Officer at Biogen from 2012 until 2016.

Using molecular and genetic approaches, the Artavanis-Tsakonas lab is examining how various signals are integrated in undifferentiated cells in order to dictate cell fates and ultimately influence morphogenesis. Our main experimental system is Drosophila, but we are interested in exploiting this system as a tool to explore human biology and understand the underlying mechanisms of pathologies such as cancer.

David Van Vactor

Professor of Cell Biology
Director of Biological and Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program
Program Director/PI of Molecular Cellular and Developmental Dynamics T32
Faculty Director of Harvard Curriculum Fellows Program

David Van Vactor, Ph.D. is a Professor of Cell Biology in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and a member of the Program in Neuroscience and the DFCI/Harvard Cancer Center. He is the Faculty Director of the HMS Curriculum Fellows program and Director/PI of Harvard’s Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Dynamics (MCD2) T32 PhD training program. He is also a Visiting Professor at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University in Japan.  Dr. Van Vactor received his B.A. in Behavioral Biology at the Johns Hopkins University and his Ph.D. from the Department of Biological Chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), before post-doctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Van Vactor Lab is focused on understanding the development, maintenance and plasticity of neuromuscular connectivity in the model organism Drosophila. The coordinated morphogenesis of the synapse, fundamental unit of cell-cell communication in neural networks, requires many layers of regulatory mechanisms.  Genome-wide enhancer/suppressor screens to define the molecular machinery controlling neuromuscular junction development (NMJ) led us to multiple translational regulators, including a number of microRNA (miR) genes. Because the fly NMJ has served so well for genetic analysis of synapse development and function in many labs, we have a sophisticated knowledge of underling pathways and gene networks, thus making this a system particularly well suited to explore upstream regulatory logic. Using conditional genetic tools to manipulate the function of conserved miRs and their target genes, we have identified several novel regulatory pathways.  In addition, through a close and long-term collaboration with the Artavanis-Tsakonas Lab, we have worked to better understand developmental and age-dependent degeneration of the neuromuscular system using a variety of models for human disease in Drosophila.

Yang Shi

Group Leader in Cancer Genomics at Ludwig Cancer Research Center.
Department of Neonatology (BCH; interim during transition)

Yang Shi, Ph.D., obtained his doctorate from NYU in molecular biology and trained as a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University. He joined Harvard Medical School as an assistant professor in 1991. He was the Merton Bernfield Professor of Neonatology in the Division of Newborn Medicine at Boston Children's Hospital from 2009-2018, after which he was named the C.H. Waddington Professor of Pediatrics. In 2020, he was appointed a Member of the Oxford Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at the University of Oxford. Yang is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

A major focus of the Shi lab is to understand epigenetic regulation and its role in human diseases. The Shi lab discovered the first histone methyl eraser, LSD1, and they continue to investigate how histone methylation is dynamically regulated as well as mechanisms involved in the recognition of combinatorial modifications occurring on histone tails that are important for chromatin regulation. More recently, the Shi lab has  been studying RNA modifications and how they impact gene expression regulation. At Ludwig Oxford, Yang's lab will be focusing on acute myeloid leukaemia and diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, two cancers in which chromatin and epigenetics play critical roles.

Danesh Moazed

Professor of Cell Biology
HHMI Investigator

Danesh Moazed, Ph.D., is a Professor and HHMI Investigator in the Department of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School.  He is a member of the Harvard Biophysics Program and the Harvard Initiative for RNA Medicine (HIRM). He received his undergraduate and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California in Santa Cruz and performed postdoctoral studies at the University of California in San Francisco.

The Moazed lab studies how genes are silenced and how silencing is epigenetically inherited across generations.  The lab’s interests revolve around diverse pathways of heterochromatin-mediated gene silencing in yeast and mammalian cells.  Work in budding yeast focuses on the structure and function of a diverged and relatively simple form of heterochromatin, which requires only three Silent information regulator (“Sir”) proteins that form a histone deacetylase and chromatin-binding complex.  Work in fission yeast focuses on a conserved example of heterochromatin that requires the nuclear RNA interference (RNAi) machinery, other RNA processing pathways, Heterochromatin protein 1 (HP1) homologs, and histone-modifying enzymes.  In mammalian cells, the work is focused on HP1-mediated and other heterochromatin formation pathways.  The lab uses approaches ranging from genetics and genomics, biochemical purification and reconstitution, and structural biology for their studies.  Ultimately, the lab seeks to understand the conserved fundamental principles that govern the assembly, function, and epigenetic propagation of heterochromatin.

John Flanagan

Professor of Cell Biology

John Flanagan, Ph.D., did his undergraduate training at the University of Oxford in biochemistry and his graduate training at the University of Cambridge, UK in molecular biology. His postdoctoral training was at Harvard Medical School in the Genetics department, focused on cell-cell signaling, after which he joined the Department of Cell Biology as a faculty member.

The Flanagan lab studies how cell-cell signaling molecules set up spatial pattern, particularly in the development and regeneration of connections in the nervous system.

Malcolm Whitman

M. Whitman
Professor of Developmental Biology (HSDM)
Affiliate member of Cell Biology

Malcolm Whitman, Ph.D., received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1985 while working on phosphatidylinositol kinases with Lew Cantley. After his postdoctoral studies with Doug Melton studying signaling in embryogenesis, also at Harvard, he joined the Cell Biology faculty at Harvard Medical School in 1992. In 2007, he became a Professor of Developmental Biology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

The Whitman lab is interested in how signals are transduced into highly specific biological responses during embryogenesis, during physiological responses of an organism to stress or damage,  and  during the development of various disease pathologies.

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