Litwack Lecture Distinguished Speakers
2017 – Dr. Roeland Nusse
2017 Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize Laureate
Dr. Roeland Nusse won the 2017 Prize for pioneering research on the Wnt pathway, one of the crucial intercellular signaling systems in development, cancer and stem cell biology.
Dr. Nusse’s laboratory is interested in the growth, development and integrity of animal tissues. They study multiple different organs, trying to identify common principles, and they extend these investigations to cancer and injury repair. In most organs, different cell types are generated by stem cells – cells that also make copies of themselves and thereby maintain the tissue. An optimal balance between the number of stem and differentiated cells is essential for the proper function of the organs. Locally-acting signals are important to maintain this balance in a spatially-organized manner and these signals are key to understanding the regulation of growth.
A common theme linking their work together are Wnt signals. Work from many laboratories, including their own, has shown that Wnt proteins are essential for the control over stem cells. How this is achieved is far from clear and is the subject of studies in the lab, both in vivo and in cell culture. In vivo, a particular question they address is how physiological changes, such as those occurring during hormonal stimuli, injury or programmed tissue degeneration have an impact on the self-renewal signals and on stem cell biology.
In their most recent work, Dr. Nusse’s lab has designed cell fate tracking experiments to study stem cells in vivo. They identified Wnt-responsive stem cells by their expression of Axin2 (a common Wnt target gene) and generated a mouse strain with the CreERT2 recombination signal inserted into the Axin2 locus, Axin2-Cre. By clonal labeling, they showed that single stem cells differentiate into different cell types of the tissues of interest. Unexpectedly, in the liver, they found that hepatocytes that reside in the pericentral domain of the liver demonstrate stem cell behavior. Although these cells are functional hepatocytes, they are diploid and thus differ from the mostly polyploid mature hepatocyte population. They are active in homeostatic cell replacement. Adjacent central vein endothelial cells provide the essential source of Wnt signals for the hepatocyte stem cells and thereby constitute the liver stem cell niche.
2016 – Dr. Edward Boyden
2016 Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize Laureate
Dr. Boyden won the 2016 Prize for the development and implementation of optogenetics — the programming of neurons to express light-activated ion channels and pumps, so that their electrical activity can be controlled by light.
Ed Boyden is a professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the MIT Media Lab and the MIT McGovern Institute. He leads the Synthetic Neurobiology Group, which develops tools for analyzing and repairing complex biological systems such as the brain, and applies them systematically to reveal ground truth principles of biological function as well as to repair these systems. These technologies, created often in interdisciplinary collaborations, include expansion microscopy, which enables complex biological systems to be imaged with nanoscale precision, optogenetic tools, which enable the activation and silencing of neural activity with light, and optical, nanofabricated, and robotic interfaces that enable recording and control of neural dynamics. He has launched an award-winning series of classes at MIT that teach principles of neuroengineering, starting with basic principles of how to control and observe neural functions, and culminating with strategies for launching companies in the nascent neurotechnology space. He also co-directs the MIT Center for Neurobiological Engineering, which aims to develop new tools to accelerate neuroscience progress.
Amongst other recognitions, he has received the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (2016), the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2015), the Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award (2015), the Carnegie Prize in Mind and Brain Sciences (2015), the Jacob Heskel Gabbay Award (2013), the Grete Lundbeck Brain Prize (2013), the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award (2013), the NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award (twice, 2012 and 2013), and the Perl/UNC Neuroscience Prize (2011). He was also named to the World Economic Forum Young Scientist list (2013), the Technology Review World’s “Top 35 Innovators under Age 35” list (2006), and his work was included in Nature Methods “Method of the Year” in 2010.
His group has hosted hundreds of visitors to learn how to use new biotechnologies, and he also regularly teaches at summer courses and workshops in neuroscience, and delivers lectures to the broader public (e.g., TED (2011); World Economic Forum (2012, 2013, 2016)). Ed received his Ph.D. in neurosciences from Stanford University as a Hertz Fellow, where he discovered that the molecular mechanisms used to store a memory are determined by the content to be learned. Before that, he received three degrees in electrical engineering, computer science, and physics from MIT. He has contributed to over 300 peer-reviewed papers, current or pending patents, and articles, and has given over 300 invited talks on his group’s work.
2015 – Dr. Robin Warren
2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology for Medicine
Nobel Prize winner Dr. John Robin Warren won the 2005 Prize in Physiology for Medicine, which was was awarded jointly to Dr. Warren and Barry J. Marshall “for their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease“
Dr. Warren was born in Adelaide in 1937. Despite an equal love for photography Warren entered medical school at the University of Adelaide, graduating with an MB and BS in 1961. A chance turn of fate led Warren to pathology and after training at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1967 he was admitted to the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia. Warren then moved to Perth to take up a position as staff specialist in pathology at the Royal Perth Hospital (1968–98). It was during this time that Warren first observed bacteria in stomach sections associated with peptic ulcers (1979). Warren began to work with Barry Marshall in 1981 and together they were able to demonstrate that the bacteria Warren observed (now called Helicobacter pylori) was the causative agent in peptic ulcers. This revolutionary discovery was at first rejected by the medical fraternity but finally led to a cure for peptic ulcers.
2014 – Dr. Louis J. Ignarro
1998 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Dr. Louis J. Ignarro, a distinguished molecular and medical pharmacologist and 1998 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, is currently Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology at UCLA, USA, and an Honorary Professor of Medicine at CUHK. Professor Ignarro discovered that nitric oxide causes vasodilation, inhibits thrombosis, and is produced in arteries as the endothelium-derived relaxing factor. His discoveries have greatly encouraged research in the protective mechanism of the cardiovascular system against pathological conditions and in vascular complications, bearing significant impact on medical development. The University will confer upon Professor Ignarro the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, in recognition of his valuable advice and support to CUHK in its research and development in medicine and science.