Columbia University Medical Center

Leading Cell Biologist Joins Faculty At Columbia University College Of Physicians & Surgeons

James Rothman recruited to lead Columbia’s initiative in chemical biology
New York, NY – June 9, 2003 – James E. Rothman, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading cell biologists, has been recruited to help establish a new Center for Chemical Biology at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons (P&S). Dr. Rothman also joins the faculty as a professor in the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics. Renowned for his research into the mechanisms underlying transport of proteins within cells, Dr. Rothman was the 2002 winner of the prestigious Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and Columbia’s Louisa Gross Horwitz prize, both widely considered predictors of Nobel prize winners.

“Dr. Rothman’s research has been fundamental to the advancement of cell biology, and his presence here will greatly benefit the entire community,” says Dr. Gerald D. Fischbach, executive vice president for health and biomedical sciences and dean of the Faculty of Medicine at P&S. “The Faculty of Medicine and the Departments of Chemistry and Biology have identified chemical biology as among their top research priorities. It is likely, therefore, that the center will evolve into a university-wide initiative. Jim’s leadership at the interface between academia and industry will be instrumental in helping us translate basic scientific discoveries into new therapeutics. His extraordinary experience also will help in the development of biotechnology enterprises in New York City.”

“The recruitment of Jim Rothman brings a great scientist to the faculty at Columbia University,” says Dr. Andrew R. Marks, chairman of the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at P&S. “Jim will be a terrific colleague and a leader in the university. Through his own extraordinary research in the fundamental processes of cell biology and his innovative ideas about biomedical technology, he will continue to make major contributions.”

Dr. Rothman began his career in the Department of Biochemistry at Stanford University in 1978. He was at Princeton University from 1988 to 1991, before coming to New York to found the Department of Cellular Biochemistry and Biophysics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he also served as vice chairman of Sloan-Kettering Institute. Dr. Rothman is widely credited as a key force in the rise to pre-eminence of science at Sloan-Kettering. He also is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and its Institute of Medicine.

“Sloan-Kettering has provided an excellent environment in which to solve basic problems in cell biology, and I have enjoyed contributing to the development of this important cancer research institution during the past decade,” says Dr. Rothman. “Now, it is the interface of chemistry with cell biology that is likely to be most fruitful for cutting through the fog of genomic complexity to reveal the underlying physiological control points which are central for normal physiology and are the springboards for disease. The broader environment of a great university having both world-class biomedical research and world-class chemistry is more fitting, and having a home in a Department of Physiology is also very attractive.”

Dr. Rothman’s award-winning research details how vesicles — tiny sac-like structures that transport hormones, growth factors, and other molecules within cells — know how to reach their correct destination and where and when to release their contents. This cellular trafficking underlies many critical physiological functions, including the propagation of the cell itself in division, communication between nerve cells in the brain, secretion of insulin and other hormones in the body, and nutrient uptake. Defects in this process lead to a wide variety of conditions, including diabetes and infectious diseases such as botulism.

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