15 School of Medicine researchers named CZ Biohub investigators

The researchers will be given funding by the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub to develop tools and technologies that support the organization’s goal of curing, preventing or managing every disease.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan created the Biohub.
Courtesy of Chan Zuckerberg Biohub

Fifteen faculty members from the School of Medicine are among the 47 investigators announced today by the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub.

The CZ Biohub is an independent nonprofit medical research organization that has the goal of harnessing the power of science, technology and human capacity to cure, prevent or manage all disease. It is funded through a $600 million commitment by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which was created by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, MD.

The investigators were selected from the three institutions participating in the CZ Biohub: Stanford, UC-San Francisco and UC-Berkeley. Each of the investigators will be given a five-year appointment and up to $1.5 million for research in their respective areas of expertise. More than 700 researchers applied for the funding; the selections were made by an international panel of 60 scientists and engineers.

The investigators include both senior researchers and up-and-coming faculty.

“The 47 CZ Biohub investigators we’re introducing today are quite literally inventing the future of life science research,” said Stephen Quake, PhD, co-president of CZ Biohub and professor of bioengineering and applied physics at Stanford. “The CZ Biohub is distinguished by our emphasis on technology and engineering, and our researchers are inventing tools to accelerate science for the good of humanity.”

“We are honored to have so many of our scientists selected to pursue their innovative and ambitious projects at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. “If past is prologue, giving such inventive thinkers the freedom to conduct fundamental research will result in truly outstanding discoveries, moving us toward a future where we can both cure and prevent what today seems incurable and unpredictable.”

The 15 medical school faculty members are:

Senior investigators

  • Carlos Bustamante, PhD, professor of biomedical data science and of genetics: He is focusing on the integration and analysis of massive data coming from consumer, health care and financial sources. He is especially interested in bringing together direct-to-consumer genetics and phenotype data in a secure space that can be explored by academic-, industry- and citizen-scientists.
  • Brian Kobilka, MD, professor of molecular and cellular physiology: His pioneering X-ray crystallographic studies have revealed how the binding of a hormone to the extracellular pocket on a G-protein coupled receptor is transmitted across the cell membrane to trigger a signaling cascade. He is now carrying out structural studies of opioid receptors to identify more effective painkillers with fewer side effects.
  • Matthew Porteus, MD, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics: He uses genome editing as curative therapy for genetic diseases, as exemplified by his correction of the mutation in sickle cell disease in hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells. He is now combining genome editing with synthetic biology to engineer cells having new phenotypic properties, such as resistance to HIV and enhanced wound healing.
  • Lucy Shapiro, PhD, professor of developmental biology: She has established the bacterium Caulobacter cresentus as a powerful model organism for understanding self-organization and spatially controlled differentiation leading to daughter cells with different cell fates. She is developing a reaction-diffusion model that includes all essential cellular processes to gain a deeper understanding of asymmetric cell division and cell polarity.
  • Christina Smolke, PhD, professor of bioengineering: She is engineering yeast to produce complex, plant-inspired medicinal compounds like those widely used as antihypertensives and anticancer agents. She interacts with experts in plant-specialized metabolism to identify gene clusters that can be inserted into her optimized yeast platform to accelerate the discovery of new therapeutic agents.
  • Tom Soh, PhD, professor of radiology and of electrical engineering: He has devised sensors capable of continuously monitoring specific biomolecules in vivo and a control system for achieving real-time, closed-loop controlled drug delivery in live animals. He plans to generate detection systems for hitherto untargetable biomolecules and to develop real-time sensors that can be implanted in vivo to detect multiple biomolecules that are medically important.
  • Alice Ting, PhD, professor of genetics and of biology: She develops, scales up and broadly disseminates molecular technologies for mapping cells and functional circuits, as illustrated by her biotin-based method for protein mapping in living cells. She is devising methods for identifying the ensemble of neurons that encode or control a specific memory, behavior or emotional state by using a light- and calcium-gated transcription factor.

Junior investigators

  • Catherine Blish, MD, PhD, assistant professor of infectious diseases: She aims to build an atlas of host-pathogen interactions to serve as a template to elicit immune responses that will promote pathogen eradication. She seeks to understand how to control the innate immune response mediated by natural-killer and other cells to eliminate infections and develop more potent methods of protection.
  • Adam de la Zerda, PhD, assistant professor of structural biology: His goal is to image 100 million cells in living tissues at single-cell resolution by using optical coherence tomography. One of the potential uses of his technique will be to visualize cancer markers to delineate the margins of tumors.
  • Polly Fordyce, PhD, assistant professor of genetics and of bioengineering: She is developing new biochip technologies for high-throughput functional characterization of proteins to enhance our ability to predict the function of a protein given its amino acid sequence. Her aim is to characterize the properties of more than 1,000 proteins, such as enzymes and transcription factors, in a single experiment.
  • William Greenleaf, PhD, assistant professor of genetics: He studies the physical and spatial organization of the human genome at multiple scales and across different biological states. His aim is to unravel the quantitative relations between regulatory elements and gene expression in a massive, parallel way to generate a quantitative model of the regulatory wiring of cells.
  • Manu Prakash, PhD, assistant professor of bioengineering: He develops measurement tools, such as ultra-low cost microscopy platforms for field diagnostics of infectious diseases, for use in resource-poor areas of the world. His aim is to devise new, frugal platforms for the diagnosis and surveillance of schistosomiasis, leishmaniasis and malaria.
  • Taia Wang, MD, PhD, assistant professor of infectious diseases: She studies human immunity and susceptibility to viral pathogens such as dengue virus. Her research is driven by the finding that humans have diverse immunoglobulin Fc domains that affect the severity of viral diseases and the effectiveness of vaccines.
  • Ellen Yeh, MD, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry, of pathology and of microbiology and immunology: She studies the apicoplast, a unique organelle in Plasmodium falciparum parasites, to identify new targets for the prevention and therapy of malaria. She aims to comprehensively identify the apicoplast proteome and to understand the novel secretory pathways of this unusual plastid in her search for novel therapeutic targets.
  • James Zou, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical data science: He develops novel machine-learning tools that enable researchers to make complex predictions and quantify disease mechanisms using population genomics and epigenomics data. He is devising new deep-learning models to increase the accuracy of predicting genetic risk from genotypes and of identifying distinct cell populations based on single-cell transcriptional profiles.

Additionally, four Stanford faculty members from other schools were also named CZ Biohub investigators, along with 15 researchers from UCSF and 13 from UC-Berkeley.

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.

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