New members join the Board of Scientific Advisors

November 2, 2018
Drs. Sue Biggins, Akiko Iwasaki, Michael Crair, and Susan Marqusee began their terms in 2018

The JCC is pleased to welcome four new members of the Board of Scientific Advisors this year, in addition to our new Chair, Bonnie Bassler.

Dr. Sue Biggins was the first to isolate, reconstitute, and visualize kinetochores, key structures that holds chromosomes to microtubules during cell division and ensure daughter cells receive the correct number of chromosomes. The breakthrough opened the door to study many aspects of cell division, with implications for understanding cancers, birth defects, and miscarriages that develop due to abnormal chromosome numbers. She also discovered that tension stabilizes the kinetochore – microtubule attachment and found that the Aurora B kinase can repair improperly joined kinetochores and microtubules before cells divide. Dr. Biggins is a member of the Basic Sciences Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, a member of the National Academy of Science, and a former JCC Fellow. “It is a privilege to participate in selecting fellows, and I look forward to continuing my involvement with the JCC and serving on the BSA board,” she says.

Dr. Akiko Iwasaki aims to understand how immunity is initiated and maintained at mucosal surfaces in order to develop vaccines or microbicides to prevent the transmission of viral pathogens. In a 2018 study in Science Immunology, she and her team discovered how Zika infection drives fetal demise with an antiviral protein that may act as a checkpoint for keeping or ending a pregnancy. She is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the Yale School of Medicine. “The Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund is one of the most prestigious and long-running fellowship in the country,” Dr. Iwasaki said. “The mission of the Fund is to support free and wide-ranging scientific inquiry. The list of recipients is simply amazing. When I was given the opportunity to contribute as a member of the BSA, I immediately agreed. It is a true honor to serve on this board.” Follow her on Twitter @VirusesImmunity.

Neuroscientist Dr. Michael C. Crair examines neural circuit development from many perspectives and was the first to demonstrate that early spontaneous neuronal activity is an essential part of normal brain development. In 2018, his lab coauthored a Nature study that restored congenital blindness in mice by generating rod photoreceptors that integrate into the retina and brain. “This study demonstrates how it is possible to coax glial cells, which are not neurons but self-renewing support cells, to produce neurons in the brain instead of more glial cells,” he said. “If this process can be perfected, it provides a potential pathway for restorative treatments to neurodegenerative disorders in the central nervous system.” Dr. Crair is the William Ziegler III Professor in the Department of Neuroscience, Professor of Ophthalmology & Visual Science and Deputy Dean for Scientific Affairs (Basic Science Departments) at the Yale School of Medicine. “For some time, I have been so impressed with the JCC fellows and the quality of research supported by the foundation,” he said. “It is a pleasure and honor to be able to contribute to this process and support the goals of the JCC Fund.”

Dr. Susan Marqusee studies protein folding and dynamics. Notably, she was the first scientist to design a short peptide that folded into a specific, predictable structure. Protein energy landscapes determine how simple chains of amino acids fold into complex 3-D proteins, and she has performed the most complete characterization of such a landscape to date. Also, her research into the intermediate structures of E. coli ribonuclease H led to the surprising discovery that the most stable portion of the protein folds first – before the less stable parts. Her work lends insight into normal cellular process, such as how proteins are made, degraded, and moved across membranes, and also illuminates aspects of protein misfolding and amyloid diseases. In 2018, she and her team characterized and compared the refolding and cotranslational folding trajectories of the protein HaloTag in Science Advances. Dr. Marqusee is the Warren Eveland Chair and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley and she serves the Director of Berkeley’s Institute of Quantitative Biosciences (QB3). She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Biophysical Society, and the National Academy of Sciences. In 2018, she was awarded the The Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin Award, sponsored by Genentech, in recognition of exceptional contributions in protein science.