Summer 2016

Life Sciences Pioneer

Biologist Michael Levin will lead one of two new Allen Discovery Centers in the nation

By Jacqueline Mitchell

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“We’re going to understand how cells and tissues decide what shape they’re supposed to build, how they figure out what to do to make that shape, and how they know they’ve achieved that shape and can stop growth,” says Michael Levin. Photo: Alonso Nichols

Tufts University has received a $10 million grant, one of only two in the nation given by Microsoft cofounder Paul G. Allen to fund research at the frontier of the life sciences. Tufts developmental biologist Michael Levin, whose groundbreaking work on the bioelectrical control of development and regeneration could lead to medical breakthroughs in areas such as birth defects, cancer, traumatic injury and degenerative diseases, will lead one of two Allen Discovery Centers. The other is at Stanford University.

The Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University for Reading and Writing the Morphogenetic Code will focus on the role bioelectrical signaling plays in orchestrating how cells communicate to create and repair complex anatomical shapes—an area of inquiry that Levin says is “the key to most problems in biomedicine.” The ability of cell networks to process information and make group decisions is implemented by bioelectrical, chemical and other signals. Errors in this process can give rise to birth defects and cancer.

A Game Changer

“We’re going to understand how cells and tissues decide what shape they’re supposed to build, how they figure out what to do in order to make that shape how they know when they’ve achieved that shape and can stop growth,” says Levin, A92, the Vannevar Bush Professor in the department of biology and director of the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology.

The Allen Center will likely be a game changer for the life sciences at Tufts, says President Anthony P. Monaco. “We expect this center to drive a fundamental change in how we investigate, teach and learn the quantitative biological sciences, and how we extend that knowledge,” says Monaco, who also holds faculty appointments in biology and neuroscience.

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