Spring 2016 Letter from the Chair

It’s an honor to introduce myself to you as the chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences. Established in 2013, our department is the largest in the College. Our outstanding faculty members have already proven their strong commitment to making the department a world leader in research and education.

I received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Yale University, a Ph.D. in biophysics from Stanford University, and conducted postdoctoral research at Columbia University before joining the faculty at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. My research interests center around how specific hormones and growth factors trigger cells to grow or differentiate at just the right time and in just the right way to develop and maintain us in all of our complexity. To investigate this problem I use the tools of structural biology—X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy—to study the conformational changes in specific cell-surface receptors that occur when factors bind and how these changes alter cell growth and behavior. Many of the growth signals we study go awry in cancer, and we are very interested in learning what goes wrong in these cases and how that knowledge might contribute to the development of new cancer therapies. A new lab in the Larry R. Faulkner Nano Science and Technology Building that will be used by me and other faculty in the department is being equipped with state-of-the-art instruments to support this growing area of research.

Our faculty members span the gamut of biomedical and molecular bioscience research, ranging from those who work on regulation and organization of metabolic pathways, to the protein and nucleic acid structure, to infectious diseases. These faculty members are developing novel approaches to biological problems and offer unique perspectives to our students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Central to this continual transformation are our close associations with a number of interdisciplinary institutes, centers, and facilities. These include the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, the Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology, the John Ring LaMongagne Center for Infectious Disease, the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, and the Genome Sequencing and Analysis Facility. These intellectual and technological drivers further provide bridges between the faculty and broader clinical and commercial communities, enhance the productivity of the faculty, and enliven our educational and outreach efforts.

My goal as chair is to help advance biomedical sciences and prepare the College for strong, ongoing collaboration with the Dell Medical School. The opportunity to interact and coordinate with partners in the newly forming medical school is exciting for our department and UT Austin.

I am committed to doing all I can to ensure that molecular biosciences at UT Austin not only remains strong but advances its position as a world leader in research and education . As a stakeholder in our success, you help distinguish UT Molecular Biosciences from its peers, and we need your help financially. In this spring season, please consider making a gift to the department. Giving from alumni, parents, and friends allows us to pursue strategic initiatives and to support our faculty and students in their education and research endeavors.

Thank all of you for your support, which will make a tremendous difference in our day-to-day work.


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