Tag Archives: Seminars

Nobel Laureate Dr. Susumu Tonegawa to speak at HNRCA

Susumu Tonegawa
Susumu Tonegawa, Ph.D. (Source – tonegawalab.org)


The Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center (HNRCA) on Aging has invited the Nobel laureate Dr. Susumu Tonegawa to give a talk as part of the Drs. Joan and Peter Cohn Family lecture on nutrition, inflammation and chronic disease. This event also includes a panel discussion besides presentations from other distinguished speakers such as Jonathan Kipnis, Ph.D. (Director, Center for Brain Immunology and Glia, University of Virginia), Simin Meydani (Director, HNRCA), Irwin Rosenberg, M.D. (Director, Nutrition and Neurorecognition lab, HNRCA) and Dennis Steindler, Ph.D. (Director, Neuroscience and Aging lab, HNRCA). This event will take place on Dec 17, 2015 from 1-6 pm at the HNRCA building. (Registration link – https://secure.www.alumniconnections.com/olc/pub/TUF2/events/event_order.cgi?tmpl=events&event=2363222)


Dr. Susumu Tonegawa is currently the director of RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics and holds the Picower professorship of Biology and Neuroscience. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1987 for his discovery of the genetic mechanism behind antibody diversity in the adaptive immune system. His experiments, that started in 1976, countered the contemporary dominant idea that each gene produced one protein as he went on to show that genetic rearrangements in mature B cells in adult mice, compared to embryonic mice, are responsible for the diversity observed in antibodies.

Dr. Tonegawa received his Ph.D. in Biology from University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in 1968. He then went on to work as a postdoctoral scholar at the Salk Insitute in San Diego, and later at the Basel Institute for Immunology in Switzerland where he performed his landmark experiments. His current research focuses on understanding the molecular, cellular and neural circuit mechanisms underlying learning and memory formation using genetically engineered mouse models that have spatially or temporally restricted neurotransmitter receptor and enzyme expression, or have conditional knock-out of specific cell populations that are suspected to be involved in memory formation. These mutant mice, along with control mice, are then subjected to analytical methods such as behavioral tasks, in vitro electrophysiology, and both in vivo and in vitro high resolution optical imaging. The main questions his research sees to answer include what happens in the brain during memory formation, consolidation of short-term memory to long-term, and memory recall. He also seeks to understand the role of memory in decision-making, and how other factors such as reward, punishment, attention and emotional state can affect learning and memory formation. These research questions have great implications in understanding memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s where patients are unable to form new memories, or PTSD where patients are unable to suppress recalling of a highly unpleasant memory.


For more details on his work, please visit http://tonegawalab.org/research/.

Dr. Victoria Seewaldt: Whole-Body Research, Whole-Community Medicine

We probably all remember elementary school science worksheets, those ink-marked copied pages with large Comic Sans text that asked us the most basic questions: What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? These are simple enough questions, with simple answers to simple experiments. As the science gets more complex, so do the questions, and the fact that a researcher’s daily bread-and-butter, the core component of our work, is merely observation often gets lost among that complexity. The importance of it, however, cannot be forgotten.

Dr. Vicky Seewaldt, formerly of Duke University and now a clinician and the Population Sciences department chair at City of Hope in California, and her work investigating the mechanisms of malignant progression in high-risk breast cancer patients highlight the crucial role that simple observation can play, and how it can lead to more tangible advances in how we conceptualize, research, and treat disease. When she made the move from University of Washington to Durham, North Carolina, she found herself treating a new patient population, the majority of whom were women of color. When some of her high-risk patients came to her and described their cancers as seemingly ‘appearing from nowhere’—a concept that, at the time, was at odds with her previous experience with breast cancer diagnosis—she did not dismiss them. Instead, she listened to their very personal experience with their very personalized disease. She listened, she observed, and then she began to wonder and plan.

For more than a decade, Dr. Seewaldt worked for and with her patients to delve more deeply into understanding why certain populations display such aggressive disease progression. Her main focus was on identifying biomarkers for short-term risk assessment within this subset of triple-negative breast tumors, as well as understanding how the breast microenvironment contributes to disease occurrence and development. Simply by listening, she launched a career that would benefit many and carve out new inroads to understanding breast cancer heterogeneity.

Yet her listening didn’t end with the disease, either. Dr. Seewaldt took note of her patients’ requests for wellness treatment beyond the one part of their anatomy that at the time needed it the most. Thus the Women’s Wellness Clinic came into play at Duke. Through the clinic, Seewaldt and colleagues not only sought to provide underserved women with access to information and services regarding breast health and cancer detection, diagnosis, and treatment, but also to encourage overall wellness within the community.

She reiterated this idea as she concluded her talk given for the 3rd Diane Connolly-Zaniboni Lecture in Breast Cancer at Tufts Medical Center earlier last month, commenting that clinicians should treat “the whole body, not just the breast.” Her work in Durham, which will no doubt be continued in the same enthusiastic and innovative capacity at her new position at City of Hope, demonstrates this idea of whole-body medicine and whole-body research, a reminder that a snapshot won’t do to truly eradicate disease. Rather, you need a mural, made up of bits and pieces of the many, in order to see the whole picture.

Photo credit: UC Davis M.D. Class Notes, Spring 2011