July 18, 2018

Thanks and the Nobel Prize

From December 6th to the 12th, Nobel laureates from around the world gathered in Sweden to receive their awards. During the week known as Nobel Week, winners attended dinners, ceremonies, and concerts in their honor. They met Swedish royalty, delivered lectures broadcast across the globe, and received their Nobel medals and diplomas as VIP guests of the Swedish government. Swept up in the excitement were Michael Rosbash and Jeff Hall, biologists from the Brandeis community.

Rosbash, currently a professor in Brandeis’ biology department, and Hall, a professor emeritus of biology, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Michael Young of Rockefeller University. While winning the most prestigious prize in the world and the various perks that come with it (such as a personal attaché, first-class trip to Sweden, and intellectual celebrity status) is exciting, it is far from the main reason for Rosbash and Hall’s work. Their discovery of the fundamental workings of the circadian rhythm have far reaching implications, especially in the medical world. The circadian rhythm, also known as the body clock, has connections to many bodily functions including sleep cycles, hormone balances, enzyme production, body temperature, and metabolism. This internal clock is also connected to several neurodegenerative diseases. Studies have linked chronic sleep disorders with higher levels of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s, while Parkinson’s is often marked by sleep disorders. Three quarters of patients with Parkinson’s disease have a sleep disorder and disordered sleeping may be an early indicator of the disease. It is necessary to understand the body’s underlying workings in order to develop targeted treatments. Foundational research like Rosbash and Hall’s is critical for advancing medical knowledge.

As the scientific and medical communities, and the world acknowledge the significance of Rosbash and Hall’s discovery, the two biologists recognize Brandeis University’s role in their research as a whole. Not only was Brandeis the place they met, but its collaborative, intellectual environment and financial support allowed them to perform critical research. In a time when pharmaceutical companies rely heavily on research coming out of universities; government funding for scientific research is more competitive than ever; and research in flashier, more profitable areas is more attractive; Brandeis provides a haven for an exploratory approach to the base questions, without which we can never fully answer the bigger questions. Brandeis University’s attention to foundational research and specialization in neuroscience fosters an environment of research and discovery for both faculty and students. Cognizant of the costs of research, the University provides financial support in the form of grants, fellowships, and scholarships, allowing minds like Roshash and Hall’s to stretch and push the limits of conventional science.

We must also recognize the role the Brandeis National Committee plays in Brandeis’ science. Through funding campaigns, and general support for the libraries and scientific journals, BNC members ensure Brandeis scientists have access to the resources and stability necessary to perform quality work. The Sustaining the Mind Fund for research in neuroscience and neurodegenerative diseases and scholarships in science specifically targets the needs of Brandeis’ science departments. Without the generous support of BNC members research into these diseases and progress towards their treatment and cure would be significantly slowed, and the future less secure. So in addition to congratulating Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey Hall on their Nobel Prize, the Brandeis community and the Brandeis National Committee would like to recognize the role our members play and extend our thanks for your support in this meaningful discovery.

Brandeis News: Brandeis Professors Win Nobel Prize

Left to right: Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey C. Hall. Photo by Mark Lovett.

On October 2nd the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Michael Rosbash, Jeffrey Hall, and Michael Young for their research on circadian rhythms. This year’s award is especially exciting as Rosbash and Hall share a history of teaching and research in Brandeis’ biology department in addition to being the first long-term Brandeis faculty to win the Nobel Prize. Rosbash, whose research continues in the labs of the Carl J. Shapiro Science Center, is a current professor at Brandeis while Hall has retired to Maine. Young is currently on the faculty of Rockefeller University.

Rosbash and Hall met at Brandeis in the 1970s striking up a friendship over basketball. This friendship evolved into a working partnership in the biology labs researching circadian rhythms using fruit flies as a model organism. The work that won them the Nobel Prize was the discovery of molecular mechanisms that control the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm, colloquially known as the biological clock or body clock, is the 24-hour physiological cycle that regulates certain internal processes. It plays a role in when we go to sleep, wake up, and feel hungry, as well as hormone balances and other brain activity. In 1984, Rosbash and Hall successfully sequenced the per gene which led to discovering its control over PER protein production. The per gene triggers the production of messenger RNA (mRNA) which carries information out of the cell nucleus. The information from the mRNA triggers PER protein production which peaks just before dawn and then declines until the protein is undetectable by night time. PER protein molecules then travel back into the nucleus, repress their own synthesis, and degrade. The decay causes the per gene to make mRNA, beginning the cycle over. The process was a mystery until Rosbash and Hall came along and connected the dots. Understanding the mechanisms behind the circadian rhythm has opened the door to a host of possible applications. Some mental illnesses, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and diabetes have been linked to issues with the circadian rhythm. Rosbash and Hall’s work could potentially lead to better treatments for these diseases as well as applications in plant science and environmental science.

Both men commented on Brandeis’ unusually collaborative atmosphere which allowed for such scientific innovation. The school’s small size and interdisciplinary values encourage interaction between departments resulting in collaborations drawing from many sources. Rosbash also acknowledged the hard work, creativity, and brains of Brandeis students in his work, undergraduate as well as graduate. Brandeis students of all levels often have the opportunity to work alongside professors on ground-breaking research, a chance students at many other schools only get at the graduate level. Rosbash, who regularly hires around 12 students a year, is known around the lab as a wonderful mentor with a knack for fostering talent.

The Brandeis National Committee would like to congratulate Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey Hall on their win, and warmly thank our members for your continued support of Brandeis, its libraries, sciences, and scholarships. Your support makes it possible for students to learn from the great minds of today, such as Rosbash and Hall, and work towards the solutions of the future.

Read more about the professors in Brandeis NOW.

Read the Nobel Prize press release.

Featured Alumni: Debra Messing

Debra Messing graduated from Brandeis University in 1990 as a Theater Arts major before continuing to pursue acting at New York University. She is perhaps best known for her title role in the situational comedy Will & Grace. In the show, which aired from 1998-2006, Messing plays Grace Adler; an interior decorator living with long-time friend Will Truman (played by Eric McCormak) in New York City. The addition of their friends Karen (Megan Mullally), Jack (Sean Hayes), a clever script, and a live audience resulted in a show the country couldn’t resist tuning in to every Tuesday evening. The show was a tremendous hit despite worries at the time of cancelation due to certain themes. At the end of its eight season run the four co-stars went their separate ways and Messing moved onto other projects. Since the end of Will & Grace, Messing has acted in many productions including the show Smash, created by fellow Brandeis alumna Theresa Rebeck ’83 MFA ’86 PhD ’89, and The Mysteries of Laura. Most recently she contributed to the remake of Dirty Dancing in the role of Marjorie Houston which was released in May. Later this summer Messing will return to her roots as Grace in NBC’s revival of the groundbreaking series, due to begin airing in late September. In an interview with Haute Living Magazine Messing stated filming will begin in August in Los Angeles, “but New York is where [her] heart is.”

Though Messing has moved on from Waltham, she has never fully left Brandeis behind. In an interview with Scott Feinberg ’08 for The Hollywood Reporter about her time at Brandeis, Messing said she loved the school’s size and that “the kids were very serious about everything.” She attributes the late Ted Kazanoff, a professor in the theater department, for convincing her to pursue acting after graduation. “He is really the one who made me decide to do this for my life… I remember Ted Kazanoff got me ready for my audition for NYU for the graduate program and one of the graduate playwrights wrote my monologue.” In 2014 Messing greeted fellow alumni at an event in NYC. She said Brandeis taught her to believe in herself and her career would follow. “I knew I would work and not give up. I am a proud Brandeisian.”

In these months following graduation, Brandeis’ class of 2017 is stepping into the working world, for the first time for some. These graduates will go on to make great contributions to their fields, as Messing has done, and carry forward the lessons and inspirations Brandeis has bequeathed to them. For some of these students, Brandeis would not have been an option due to prohibitive costs. The Brandeis National Committee’s continued support of student scholarships, in addition to the libraries and scientific research, has enabled these students to chase their dreams. Join the Brandeis National Committee today to help ensure students have the resources to reach their full potential, both in the classroom and beyond.

Learn more about Debra Messing’s filmography here

Read Debra Messing’s full interview with Haute Living here

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