Two Columbia Neuroscientists Named Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators

Designation Recognizes the Nation’s Most Promising Biomedical Scientists

Drs. Oliver Hobert and Rafael Yuste Selected NEW YORK (April 1, 2005) – Two young scientists at Columbia University have been appointed as Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigators and will now receive research funding from HHMI. They are Oliver Hobert, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and geneticist, and Rafael Yuste, M.D., Ph.D., a neuroscientist and biophysicist. They are among the 43 researchers recently chosen as new HHMI investigators, an honor bestowed only to the nation’s most promising biomedical scientists.

“I am pleased to congratulate Oliver and Rafael on the high honor of becoming Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators,” said David Hirsh, EVP of Research and professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, Columbia University. “These appointments validate Columbia University’s commitment to developing the early careers of bright young faculty who will continue our tradition of taking science in new directions. The HHMI will afford these young faculty members the opportunity to pursue their scholarship to expand our knowledge of fundamental neuroscience.”

“These appointments should enable Dr. Hobert to significantly further his research efforts into the nervous system, and to further Dr. Yuste’s efforts to develop new therapeutic options for epilepsy – both scientists have already contributed great work in these areas,” said Gerald D. Fischbach, executive vice president, Columbia University Medical Center. “The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays an important role in supporting the work of some of our most adventurous scientists. Because HHMI provides a salary and research funding for its investigators, they are able to explore areas that are not well-supported by public grants. And because the investigators remain faculty members of their institutions, they are valued resources for colleagues and students.”

Dr. Oliver Hobert is an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. His research focuses on molecular mechanisms that create and maintain cellular diversity in the nervous system. His goal is to understand how neurons are genetically programmed to adopt their specific anatomical and functional features. For a neuron to fulfill its function in the nervous system, it must express the correct set of proteins that allow it to be wired correctly, to communicate with its environment and to communicate with other neurons.

“Being appointed to HHMI is a wonderful recognition of the work accomplished by the researchers in my lab and it is also a reflection of the superb research and collegial environment here at Columbia – which constantly motivates one to think outside the box,” said Dr. Hobert. “This will allow me to further deepen the genetic approaches we have initiated in the past, but now on a larger scale. Furthermore, we will expand our neuronal cell fate analysis to other parts of the nervous system.”

Dr. Rafael Yuste is an associate professor of biological sciences at Columbia University’s Morningside Campus. He works to understand the cortical microcircuit, the basic element of cortex architecture. By first unraveling the dynamics of specific cortical microcircuits, and next the interactions between those circuits, he hopes to build a better understanding of how the whole cortex works. Along the way, Dr. Yuste aims to identify potential drug targets for treating epilepsy.

“This award honors the research of the entire Department of Biological Sciences here at Columbia,” said Dr. Yuste. “This will enable my group to focus on long term projects, such as the analysis of the cortical microcircuitry, and also risky projects, such as the development of new techniques or approaches, which are unlikely to be funded through conventional mechanisms.”

These new appointments bring the number of HHMI investigators at Columbia University to a dozen. Additional members of this prestigious group include the Nobel Laureates Drs. Richard Axel and Eric Kandel, as well as Stephen Goff, J. Eric Gouaux, Iva Greenwald, Wayne Hendrickson, Barry Honig, Thomas Jessell, Steven Siegelbaum and Gary Struhl.

“We are committed to providing these scientists—and the nearly 300 scientists who are already part of HHMI—with the freedom and flexibility they need in order to make lasting contributions to mankind,” said Thomas R. Cech, HHMI’s president. “We want and expect them to be daring.”

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), one of the world’s largest philanthropic organizations whose principal purpose is the direct conduct of biomedical research, is a nonprofit medical research organization that employs hundreds of leading biomedical scientists working at the forefront of their fields. HHMI currently employs nearly 300 investigators located at 64 institutions. These scientists are widely recognized for their creativity and productivity: more than 100 are members of the National Academy of Sciences and 10 have been honored with the Nobel Prize. The research of HHMI investigators is concentrated in six broad areas: cell biology, genetics, immunology, neuroscience, structural biology and computational biology. Additionally, HHMI is helping to enhance science education at all levels, and maintain the vigor of biomedical science worldwide.

Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, pre-clinical and clinical research, medical education, and health care. The medical center trains future leaders in health care and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, nurses, dentists, and other health professionals at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the School of Dental & Oral Surgery, the School of Nursing, the Mailman School of Public Health, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. With a strong history of some of the most important advances and discoveries in health care, its researchers are leading the development of novel therapies and advances to address a wide range of health conditions.

Columbia University in the City of New York, founded in 1754 as King's College by royal charter of King George II of England, is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and the fifth oldest in the United States.



Columbia University, HHMI, New York, Oliver Hobert, Rafael Yuste