HHMI hosts international scientists at Janelia Farm Research Campus

Researchers from around the world tackle tough biomedical problems

Top biomedical scientists from 28 countries will gather at the new Janelia Farm Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to share insights and data from their latest research on some of the world's toughest medical challenges--such as tuberculosis, malaria, and antibiotic resistance. The meeting of HHMI international research scholars that will convene September 2629, 2006 is the first international scientific meeting to be held at the recently completed $500 million campus, which is located near Washington Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County, Virginia.

Well known in the United States for identifying top scientific talent and encouraging those researchers to push the boundaries of biomedical science, HHMI has supported promising researchers in Latin America and Canada since 1991 and in the Baltics, Eastern and Central Europe, Russia, and Ukraine since 1995. The Institute also gives awards to scientists worldwide who are doing pioneering research in infectious diseases and parasitology. The grants have enabled the best scientists to remain in their own countries and conduct internationally competitive research.

"HHMI's international research scholars are talented scientists who are respected leaders in their fields, known well beyond the borders of their own countries," said Peter J. Bruns, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs. "By helping support their research at home, we hope to strengthen the global enterprise of science."

Although Janelia Farm officially opens in October, the meeting there is an advance opportunity for some of the world's leading basic researchers from outside the United States to network and discuss their progress on difficult research problems.

"The campus and the culture of Janelia Farm were designed to support and encourage collaborative, interdisciplinary research," said Thomas R. Cech, HHMI president. "Those attributes make Janelia Farm a perfect location to host a meeting where researchers can share ideas about developing new scientific strategies for combating the challenging global problems that HHMI's international scientists have chosen to tackle."

At the meeting, the HHMI international research scholars will report on research that spans a broad range of biomedical topics, including infectious and parasitic diseases, immune responses, Alzheimer's and prion disease, neural circuits, mitochondrial DNA and DNA repair, ribosomal RNA, cell signaling, molecular motors, protein structure, and apoptosis (cell death). Some of the international scientists who will speak include:

  • Diego de Mendoza from Argentina is considered a world leader in the field of lipid metabolism in Gram-positive bacteria, such as those causing anthrax, Staphylococcus infections, tetanus, and tuberculosis. He will present his research into the regulation of the synthesis of lipids, or fatty acids. Understanding this mechanism is expected to provide unique targets for new treatments for Gram-positive bacterial infections.
  • Natalie Strynadka, a Canadian scientist who recently was elected to the prestigious Royal Society of Canada, studies why traditional antibiotics are not effective against antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which is becoming an increasing threat in hospitals and in the community. She will report on her lab's efforts to design new drugs based on antibiotic-resistance mechanisms, to treat antibiotic-resistant Staph infections.
  • Valerie Mizrahi, who was recently named South Africa's woman scientist of the year, is researching the molecular mechanisms that drug-resistant tuberculosis uses to lurk in the body and reappear, more virulent than ever. On the front lines of the recent outbreak of drug-resistant TB in South Africa, she will report on her research into the molecular mechanisms that TB bacteria use to remain dormant in the body and then reactivate.

Karel Svoboda, a group leader at Janelia Farm, will open the meeting with a keynote address on "Synaptic Plasticity and Stability in the Neocortex." Svoboda is a neuroscientist who has developed tools and techniques to help scientists watch what happens in the brains of mice as they learn to adapt to new experiences. To do this, he developed mice engineered to produce green fluorescent protein in the brain cells that process sensory inputs from the mice's whiskers. He also designed a microscope that uses an infrared laser to track the fluorescent neurons.

Two HHMI investigators--Bonnie Bassler of Princeton University and Joseph DeRisi from the University of California, San Francisco--also will give talks during the international scholars meeting. Bassler, who studies how bacteria communicate with each other, will speak about her recent research on quorum sensing, which is the production, release, and detection of signaling molecules that enable bacteria to regulate gene expression. Her presentation is titled "Tiny Conspiracies: Cell-to-Cell Communication in Bacteria."

DeRisi's lab has developed a viral diagnostic and virus discovery system based on a microarray, a tool for simultaneously studying a large number of DNA fragments or proteins. He is also working on an accelerated malaria drug discovery program. DeRisi will speak about "Bugs, Drugs, and Microarrays."

"Because many of our international research scholars are working to find ways to prevent or treat infectious and parasitic diseases, they should find the insights of these particular HHMI investigators especially relevant," said HHMI vice president Bruns.

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HHMI's International Program supports individual scientists of the highest quality in their home countries. The program links them with each other and with other HHMI researchers to create an international network of outstanding scientists. Since 1991, the Institute has awarded more than $100 million in grants to scientists worldwide. This is the 12th international scholars meeting.

A nonprofit medical research organization, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute was established in 1953 by the aviator-industrialist. The Institute, headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is one of the largest philanthropies in the world, with an endowment of $16.3 billion at the close of its 2006 fiscal year. HHMI spent $478 million in support of biomedical research and $81 million for support of a variety of science education and other grants programs in fiscal 2006.


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