An Exciting Year

October 30, 2014
Steve Elledge, Director of the BSA, reflects on the current state of the Fund

This year, my second as the Scientific Director and Chair of the Jane Coffin Childs Board of Scientific Advisors, has been an exciting one for the program. Randy Schekman, our previous Scientific Director, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine last year along with James Rothman and Thomas Südhof for their pioneering discoveries of the machinery regulating vesicle trafficking, a system that transports substances to different places with cells and sends signals from the cell’s surface to other cells in the body. Most impressively, Randy’s studies began with basic analysis of the small eukaryote budding yeast. Using this versatile model system he mapped out the proteins that control this critical process. Work from Rothman and Südhof detailed important biochemical and neurobiological aspects of this work, demonstrating the strong conservation of these basic mechanisms. This work wonderfully illustrates the importance of supporting basic scientific research and underscores how findings critical to human health and physiology can emerge from basic scientific inquiry. I can say with certainty that the Jane Coffin Childs community, from Board members and Fellows past and present, is extremely proud of his accomplishments.

This year brought a host of changes to the Jane Coffin Childs Program. This was the first year in which we combined the scientific review meeting with the annual fellows meeting. While this means a longer meeting for the Board, it saves travel time from the previous configurations. This year’s fellows meeting was an outstanding success and brought all three years of fellows together for a day and a half of exceptional talks by our third year Fellows. In 2013 we were able to fund 28 Fellows through the combined largesse of the Childs endowment and additional support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Merck, Genentech and our new supporter, the Simon’s Foundation, who together share our philosophy of investing in young scientists to promote future scientific discovery. This year, I am proud to report that we have been able to again fund 28 fellows. We are deeply indebted to these like-minded organizations for helping us carry out our mission.

I am truly grateful for my colleagues on the Board of Scientific Advisors for their selfless work on behalf of our JCC Fellows. They are an amazing source of knowledge and collegiality upon which our program thrives. The Board of Scientific Advisors is a continually evolving entity. Last year we said goodbye to Bonnie Bassler and Randy Schekman who have ended their terms and hello to Dan Littman from NYU and Pietro de Camilli from Yale who joined us. In addition, Cori Bargman took a leave of absence this year to work on the NIH’s exciting BRAIN Initiative, which she co-chaired along with William Newsome. This important endeavor is setting the nation’s direction for neuroscience research for the next decade. We look forward to Cori rejoining us for the remainder of her term. In her place we had the pleasure of working with Kai Zinn from Caltech for last year’s meeting. This year we say goodbye to Tom Pollard who provided 8 stellar years of support for the JCC. We will miss Tom dearly. In his place we added a new board member for next year, Peter Kim. Peter was president of Merck Research Laboratories from 2003-2013 and is currently a Professor of Biochemistry at Stanford University. We look forward to working with him. We are lucky indeed to count these outstanding scholars among our numbers who have agreed to generously donate their precious time, wisdom and scientific expertise to promote the future of science.