by Tom Cogill
Gumbiner to get new medical institute up and running.
Tackling cells mysteries
leading cutting-edge research
the second century, when the Roman Galen first asserted that the
fibers of the body could be categorized, scientists have pondered
how the body builds itself as it does: how the cells of our skin
fall into layers, how our muscle cells are ordered to bundle and
what directive gives our internal organs their distinctive shapes.
a very basic question, said Barry Gumbiner, new chair of
of cell biology. How do you take the one-dimensional
code of DNA and turn it into a three-dimensional form?
is the kidney shaped the way it is? Its pieces are tubular, while
other parts of the body are sheets of cells and round balls or
multi-layered. They are really simple questions in a way, but
theyre still very big mysteries of biology and medicine.
and other researchers in the make-up of cellular tissue call this
science morphogenesis, from the roots meaning to change
in form or shape and to create. While the study
of cellular creationary code may seem esoteric, its application
is one of the hottest pursuits in modern medicine. Gumbiner is
organizing the Universitys new Morphogenesis and Regenerative
is a chance for us to make a concerted effort to move into
this cutting-edge field and really take the leadership role.
chairman, department of cell biology
goal of regenerative medicine, to generate or repair tissues,
has a long-term goal of being able to make artificial tissues
and organs. More likely in the short term is figuring out ways
to make the body regenerate tissues, said Gumbiner.
research, which has sparked as much controversy as hope, is an
offshoot of regenerative medicine.
came to U.Va. in early June, enticed by the opportunity to help
set up an institute devoted to morphogenesis and regenerative
medicine. His previous research as a faculty section head at Sloan-Kettering
Institute in New York was directed primarily at cancerous morphogenesis
and cell adhesion how cells adhere to each other to form
an organ, and in the case of cancer cells, how they release and
reattach themselves to spread the disease.
U.Va., Gumbiner envisions a research body of as many as 40 investigators
from multiple disciplines working together to understand tissue
formation. Specialists in cell biology and genetics would join
biomedical engineers, chemists in tissue engineering and physicians
in a research building devoted solely to this field.
own work is only going to be a little part of it, he said.
I see myself as a catalyst. The exciting thing here is that
although there are people all over the world doing little bits
of this, you cant really point to one university thats
the leader. This is a chance for us to make a concerted effort
to move into this cutting-edge field and really take the lead.
fact, the creation of such an institute was laid out as a priority
for the Virginia 2020 initiative, involving many faculty and departments.
Among them, Ariel Gomez of pediatrics, biology chairman Ray Keller,
Tom Skalak of biomedical engineering and biology professor Rob
Grainger lobbied strongly for its inclusion.
hopes to see the institute, which he will co-direct with Keller,
settled in a new building in about five years. Because it will
draw from and benefit three different schools (Medicine, Engineering
and Arts & Sciences), the planning is coordinated by the offices
of the provost and vice president for research and requires cross-Grounds
studied and taught at the University of California at San Francisco
(he received his Ph.D in neuroscience in 1982 and returned as
an assistant professor in 1986), Gumbiner said he is wary about
the inherent constraints of doing research at a public institution.
Virginias current budget woes spiked shortly after he moved
into Jordan Hall, forcing him to put his hiring plans on hold.
on hold are new building projects, although the upcoming bond
referendum will provide an indication of how long Gumbiner may
have to wait. In the meantime, he plans to embrace the fund-raising
aspect of his new job, confident in the commitment to morphogenesis
is a long-term plan, he said. You dont do it
overnight. If you did, you would probably make a disaster of it.