Waltham Teachers Meet with Brandeis Scientists

Brandeis scientists & Waltham teachers

On Tuesday, November 7th, 32 science teachers from Waltham Public Middle and High Schools visited the Brandeis science labs as part of the Third Annual Brandeis Scientists in the Classroom Workshop. The workshop is designed to be an opportunity to connect middle and high school science teachers with Brandeis scientists. The teachers were grouped and matched with 14 Brandeis graduate students, postdocs and faculty who shared their Brandeis science research directly with the teachers to help them understand what we do, so they can better integrate science into their classroom lessons.

This event was an extension of an ongoing partnership between Brandeis and Waltham High School and was sponsored by the Brandeis MRSEC. The Waltham school district has a high percentage of students from backgrounds underrepresented in the sciences. Brandeis offers several on-going programs with Waltham teachers and students in an effort to broaden their participation in STEM.

Eisenbud Lectures in Mathematics and Physics set for November 27-29, 2017

The Departments of Physics and Mathematics at Brandeis University are incredibly excited to announce that this year’s Eisenbud Lectures in Mathematics and Physics will be given Prof. James P. Sethna, a theoretical physicist whose work has often carved out new directions in condensed matter physics, in its broadest interpretation.

The Eisenbud Lectures are the result of a bequest by Leonard and Ruth-Jean Eisenbud, and this year marks the 100th anniversary of Leonard Eisenbud’s birth. Leonard Eisenbud was a mathematical physicist at SUNY-Stony Brook; upon his retirement he moved to the Boston area, as his son David was a member of the Mathematics faculty at Brandeis, and was given a desk here. The bequest is for an annual lecture series by physicists and mathematicians working on the boundary between the first two fields.

Prof. Sethna has tackled traditional and highly non-traditional topics in Physics. The title of one of his recent talks is “The Statistical Mechanics of Zombies”!. “Mosh Pit Dynamics at Heavy Metal Concerts” is another example where Jim uses the tools of statistical mechanics to understand a social phenomenon. Jim is a fascinating speaker, and these lectures promise to be enlightening and entertaining in equal measure. His playful enthusiasm for science is certain to draw you in. So, try not to miss this year’s series of three Eisenbud Lectures.

The first lecture on Monday, November 27 will be on “Sloppy models, Differential geometry, and How Science Works”, and is intended for a general science audience. This lecture will be held in Gerstenzang 121 at 4 PM. The second lecture on Tuesday, November 28 will be a colloquium-style lecture entitled “Crackling Noise” and will take place in Abelson 131 at 4 PM. The final lecture, “Normal form for renormalization groups: The framework for the logs” will be delivered at 10 AM on Wednesday, November 29 in Abelson 333.

Refreshments will be served 15 minutes prior to each talk. There will be a reception in Abelson 333 following Tuesday’s talk.

Additional information is available on the lecture’s website.

We hope to see you all at what promises to be an exciting series of talks!

John Lisman (1944-2017)

Chair of Biology Piali Sengupta wrote:

It is with great sadness that I am writing to let you know that John Lisman passed away last night. He passed away peacefully surrounded by his family. John was an influential and creative scientist and a very good friend to all of us in Biology and Neuroscience. We are glad that we had the opportunity to honor him and hear from him at the Volen Retreat last week. He will be much missed.

John’s talk at the Volen Retreat earlier this month, delivered by video conference, is available here: The critical role of CaMKII in memory storage: 6 key physiological and behavioral tests

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers people consider contributing to the John Lisman Memorial Scholarship

Update: The Memorial Service, taking place at 2 p.m. Thu Oct 26, will be live streamed. Brandeis community members can watch the live streaming in real time in Gerstenzang 121 as well as the Shapiro Science Center level 1 library. There will be a reception at the Brandeis Faculty Club at 3:30 open to the community.

We also wanted to share some tweets from past students and colleagues:

We also received this longer tribute from Michael Kahana:

I was greatly saddened to hear the news that John Lisman passed away this weekend. I spoke with him just a few weeks ago and was greatly looking forward to his upcoming visit to Penn. Although he told me of his illness, I was hoping to have a little more time with my good colleague and friend. Upon learning of his passing, I wanted to write down a few memories to share with friends and colleagues who knew John well.

I vividly recall when I first met John, at an evening gathering at his home that I attended just prior to joining the faculty at Brandeis (this may have been a precursor to the famous Boston Hippocampus meetings that John helped organize). The meeting was teaming with energy, and John welcomed me warmly, introducing me to other scientists in the room. John had recently become very interested in human memory, and as a newly minted PhD working on memory, John took me under his wings, teaching me about neurophysiology and quizzing me enthusiastically about the psychology of memory, a field that John was keen to master as quickly as possible.

John was a polymath, bursting with creative energy, and capable of seeing connections between diverse fields. Over the subsequent decade at Brandeis, John had an enormous influence on my career and research direction, introducing me to theta and gamma rhythms, and teaching me about countless topics in neurophysiology. On a typical day in the Volen Center, John would rush into my lab eager to share a new discovery or ask me a question about a study of memory that he had just learned about. He had this incredibly-infectious scientific curiosity, and he was always abundantly generous with his time, both with me and my students.

I particularly remember the early days when John was developing the LIJ (Lisman-Idiart-Jensen) model, and trying to learn as much as he could about the Sternberg task and other related phenomena in the field of human memory. Although I frequently challenged John on this front, he kept at it, continuing to refine the model together with Ole Jensen until they were able to answer many of the most serious objections. I just saw that the original paper was cited more than 1,200 times, and several of the follow up papers are well into the many hundreds of citations. This is arguably the most creative neurophysiological model of a cognitive function, and the best example of an attempt to link detailed physiological measurements to behavioral measures of human memory.

We have all lost a great friend, colleague, and mentor, and the field of neuroscience has lost one of its shining stars. I want to share my deepest sympathies with all of you who knew and loved John.

May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Mike Kahana

Thomas Reese shared his thoughts:

John, your intellect and spirit lighted more than 30 summers my life at the MBL in Woods Hole.  You were a reference point for neurobiology there, holding court at your favorite table at the Kidd, at the far end of the dock.  A cherished invitation to lunch at exactly 12:00, with interesting synapse people passing though, or to hear a deluge of you new ideas about how a synapse is, or should be, put together.  Occasionally an invitation to dinner outside, behind your house with talk of many things…..joined by the delightful Natashia and other interesting people….discussing well into the night.

If Woods Hole is a little scientific Athens, you were our Socrates, lurking on Milfield. questioning in your disarming, open open way…bringing out the truth.  You were our Dogenes. searching Gardner Road for a man with the honest truth.

John, ,…John..it will seem empty there without you…you
will be very much missed..Tom Reese.     NIH

Rodal lab find surprising new link between inflammation and Lowe Syndrome

Could a disease with symptoms in the brain, eyes, and kidneys actually be caused by problems with immune cells? A team of scientists from the Rodal Lab, co-first authored by Steven Del Signore and Sarah Biber and including three Brandeis undergraduates (Katy Lehmann ‘16, Stephanie Heimler ‘17, and Ben Rosenfeld ’18), think this just might be the case with Lowe Syndrome, in a new paper published Oct 13th in PLOS Genetics.

Patients with Lowe Syndrome suffer from kidney failure, congenital cataracts, and several neurological problems including intellectual disability and seizures. Scientists have known for some time that the disease is caused by mutations in a gene called OCRL, but remain unsure how its loss causes such a diverse array of symptoms. A big problem has been that OCRL appears to do many different jobs inside cells, including controlling how they divide, how they sense their surroundings, and how they store and transport materials inside small packages called endosomes.

Fly immune cells showing the tracks of moving endosomes. Single tracks represent the path of individual endosomes over time.

To try to solve this mystery, a team of researchers from the Rodal lab used the fruit fly, which has its own version of the OCRL gene and allowed the investigators to perform powerful genetic experiments to figure out precisely what OCRL is doing, and where. To do this, the group created a fly missing its OCRL gene. They were surprised to find that, rather than eye or neurological defects, loss of OCRL hyper-activated cells of the innate immune system. The innate immune system is the first line of defense against infection in humans (and the only defense in fruit flies), when cells release inflammatory signals that mobilize specialized cells to attack invading pathogens.

The team determined that OCRL is required in one of these specialized immune cells in the fly, and that the immune-cell activation was caused by problems in a particular step of intracellular transport. Every cell of the body has its own postal service, which is used to pack and ship signals that tell the cell or its neighbors to grow, divide, or jump into action (see movie here to watch endosomes moving inside living fly immune cells). The OCRL mutant immune cells had a problem in a key step that controls whether signals get thrown in the trash or shipped outside the cell, and this caused the immune activation.

How do these findings relate to Lowe Syndrome? The authors think these results suggest a possible cause for the seizures that patients experience. When similar immune-like cells in the brain release excessive inflammatory signals, it can cause several forms of epilepsy. Further, OCRL has been linked to at least one mouse model of epilepsy. Going forward, the researchers will try to identify which immune signals are responsible, and how these findings translate to human cells.

Del Signore SJ (*), Biber SA (*), Lehmann KS, Heimler SR, Rosenfeld BH, Eskin TL, Sweeney ST, Rodal AA. dOCRL maintains immune cell quiescence by regulating endosomal traffic. Plos Genet. 2017;13(10):e1007052.



James Collins to receive the 2017 Gabbay Award on Oct. 18

James Collins

On Wednesday, October 18, 2017, the 2017 Jacob and Louise Gabbay Award in Biotechnology and Medicine will be given to James J. Collins from MIT. Professor Collins will be delivering his lecture entitled Synthetic Biology: Life Redesigned at 4:00pm at Brandeis in Gerstenzang 121.

Professor Collins is receiving the award “for his inventive work in synthetic biology that created a new area of research, enabling multiple biomedical applications and launching a new sector of the biotechnology industry”. He is the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science and Professor of Biological Engineering at MIT, also Core Founding Faculty at the Wyss Institute (Harvard University) and an Institute Member of the Broad Institute.

The Gabbay Award was created in 1998 by the Jacob and Louise Gabbay Foundation in order to recognize scientists working in academia, medicine or industry for their outstanding achievements developing scientific content and significant results in the biomedical sciences.


Ivanovic Receives 2017 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award

photo: Mike Lovett

Assistant Professor of Biochemistry Tijana Ivanovic has received a 2017 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. This award is part of the NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, designed to fund early career investigators who propose innovative and potentially transformative projects. Ivanovic will receive $1,500,000 in direct costs over five years to spearhead a research program aimed at comprehensively characterizing molecular changes in the viral cell-entry protein hemagglutinin (HA) that define pandemic influenza viruses. With the generated insights, Ivanovic hopes to ultimately be in a position to predict the pandemic potential of influenza viruses circulating in nature.

HA densely covers the influenza virion surface, where it allows the virus to both recognize and penetrate (fuse with) the cells of its host. HA is also a key target of neutralizing antibodies that protect us from influenza infection. An influenza pandemic is characterized by the adaptation of a new HA subtype to cell entry into human cells (of what was originally an avian virus). Without the pre-existing immunity to protect us, the virus quickly spreads around the globe. During pandemic adaptation, both HA functions in target-cell recognition and membrane fusion undergo key molecular changes. Ivanovic will use a custom-built Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence Microscope (TIRFM) to visualize, in real time, individual virus particles as they engage and fuse with target cell membranes. This system will allow her to obtain large-scale quantitative information about distinct HA functions at an unprecedented level of detail. She will compare avian viruses with their evolutionary offspring that infected humans, including past pandemic strains. She hopes to develop models for predicting which viruses will lead to a major flu outbreak.

Ivanovic obtained a PhD in virology from Harvard University and carried out postdoctoral research with Stephen Harrison in molecular biophysics. She integrates these diverse backgrounds in her laboratory, where members are trained across these two and other synergistic areas (such as laser microscope optics, and analytical and computational modeling). The funds from the New Innovator award have created new opportunities for hiring, and the lab is actively recruiting postdocs, PhD students (from the Biochemistry and Biophysics, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Physics graduate programs) and undergraduate researchers to undertake this ambitious program.

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