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.

Titia de Lange to receive 47th Rosenstiel Award

Professor Titia de Lange

The 47th Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research has been awarded to Professor Titia de Lange of Rockefeller University for her studies on the protection of chromosome ends (telomeres) from degradation and rearrangement. Professor de Lange will receive the award on April 12, 2018 at Brandeis University where de Lange will present a public lecture.

Dr. de Lange’s laboratory identified and characterized the roles of proteins that compose the shelterin complex, which binds specifically to the special telomeric DNA sequences and maintains the stability of these ends.  Dr. de Lange’s work has shown that the shelterin complex and the unusual telomere-loop structure of telomere DNA prevent these ends from being detected as broken chromosome ends and thus protect telomeres from being degraded and rearranged as are the ends at chromosome breaks.  De Lange’s work has further shown that disabling different components of shelterin triggers different cellular alarms designed to detect broken and degraded DNA ends and leads to lethal chromosome rearrangements such as the fusion of chromosomes.  In addition, her lab has gained critical insights into the mechanisms of cellular response to the presence of DNA damage and recently has defined processes that lead to massive chromosome rearrangements (chromothripsis) associated with many human cancers.

She is the Leon Hess Professor and director of the Anderson Center for Cancer Research at Rockefeller University, as well as an American Cancer Society Research Professor.  Her honors include: the Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize, the Rosalind E. Franklin Award from the National Cancer Institute, the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Sciences, election as a foreign member of the US National Academy of Sciences and as Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The Rosenstiel Award has had a distinguished record of identifying and honoring pioneering scientists who subsequently have been honored with the Lasker and Nobel Prizes.  Professor de Lange joins a long list of past awardees.

Stanley Deser’s Influence on the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics

Written by Albion Lawrence

Deser, Arnowitt, & Miser

Bornholm 1959
From the left, Richard Arnowitt, Charles Misner and Stanley Deser

Today’s Physics Nobel Prize to Rai Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Barry Barish for the detection by the LIGO experiment of gravitational waves is a well-deserved recognition of a remarkable achievement through perseverance. However, it is the nature of prizes such as the Nobel that they obscure the important efforts and insights of many scientists across space and time that lead to the result in question.

Stanley DeserThe extraction of a gravitational wave signal from the output of the LIGO detector requires understanding in advance what signals can be produced; these are based on numerical simulations of astrophysical events which provide templates that a signal must match.

This is possible due to the seminal work of Brandeis emeritus faculty Stanley Deser, with his colleagues Richard Arnowitt and Charles Misner, who developed the mathematical framework known as the ADM formalism, to treat general relativity as a Hamiltonian system; with this, the evolution in time of the gravitational field can be computed from initial conditions.

In addition, Stanley was instrumental in the LIGO experiment being funded in the first place. The story is best told by him in his inimitable style (here quoted from an email, and lightly expurgated):

“Marcel Bardon, then [director] of NSF physics, made me an offer I’d better not refuse. I was nominated to some advisory committee in order to plead for LIGO in front of my betters, who would then go to Congress, if convinced. Those were dark days for waves, experimentally; we (ADM) of course knew the Lord was not evil, but 3 suns’ worth we did not expect!….It worked quite well, and was duly made a line item.”

Additional information:

Rosbash, Hall & Young Awarded Nobel Prize

Michael Rosbash, Nobel Laureate

Brandeis researchers Michael Rosbash, the Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience, and Professor Emeritus of Biology Jeffrey C. Hall have received this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, together with Michael Young from The Rockefeller University,  for their pioneering work on the molecular mechanisms controlling circadian rhythm.

More about Michael

More about Jeff

More about Drosophila


Jordan Pollack Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Jordan Pollack

The International Society for Artificial Life. has awarded a lifetime achievement award to Jordan Pollack, Professor of Computer Science and Chairman of Computer Science department, for his work on robotics, computer-simulated evolution and artificial life forms. Pollack, who has been a Brandeis faculty member for the past 23 years, is also the director of the Dynamical & Evolutionary Machine Organization (DEMO). DEMO is a research lab where Pollack and his students study recurrent neural networks, evolutionary computation, and dynamical systems.

Pollack received the lifetime award last week (September 4-8) at The European Conference on Artificial Life 2017 in Lyon, France. Nick Moran and Jordan Pollack’s paper “Effects of Cooperative and Competitive Coevolution on Complexity in a Linguistic Prediction Game” (MITCogNet) also received the best paper award at the conference.

In an interview with Brandeis Now, Professor Pollack discusses his career and research.

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