History and Overview of the Program in Molecular Medicine

The Program in Molecular Medicine was established in 1989 in the Two Biotech building located within the overall Medical School campus, in the Massachusetts Biotechnology Research Park. Its goal was to attract top academic scientists to meet the challenge of investigating exciting problems in biomedicine in the context of a collaborative culture. Michael Czech, then the Chair of the Department of Biochemistry, was appointed Founding Director of the new Program, moving his laboratory group in 1990 to Two Biotech. Molecular Medicine was provided control over space on two floors in Two Biotech and financial resources for its operation and faculty recruiting. However, all faculty appointments were made through one of the Medical School departments in this first phase of development. 

The strategy for the scientific development of the Program was to assemble outstanding investigators with diverse, but overlapping scientific interests in order to probe molecular mechanisms that underlie physiological processes and the diseases associated with them. These laboratory groups brought a broad spectrum of state-of-the-art methodologies to the Program. Some of the instrumentation and technical capabilities established in Molecular Medicine included X-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance, digital imaging of single live cells, and the production of transgenic and knockout animals. The Program in Molecular Medicine initially included several laboratory groups already at the Medical School, and these founding faculty moved into Two Biotech in 1989/1990. Over the next few years the Program recruited additional faculty and expanded to fifteen medical school faculty research groups, affiliated with seven basic science and clinical departments. These included biochemistry and molecular biology, cell biology, medicine, molecular genetics and microbiology, pediatrics, pharmacology and physiology. The Two Biotech building was then purchased by the Medical School and the entire building was eventually allocated to the Program in Molecular Medicine. 

Over the years the Program continued to recruit faculty, leading to its current number of twenty one research laboratories within the building. In 2000, the Program in Molecular Medicine was granted departmental status, with the ability to make academic appointments within its own “department”, although it retained its original name—Program in Molecular Medicine. Additional faculty recruitments and expansion of the campus with the building of the Sherman Center catalyzed the movement of several Molecular Medicine laboratories (Craig Mello, Co-Director of the RNA Therapeutics Institute, Dale Greiner, Co-Director of the Diabetes Center of Excellence, Craig Ceol, Jason Kim, Director of the Mouse Phenotyping Center) to the Sherman Center. In addition to these laboratory groups in the Molecular Medicine and Sherman buildings, many other tenured or tenure track faculty in other programs (that do not have departmental status) obtained primary faculty appointments in Molecular Medicine and fully participate in faculty meetings, retreats and other departmental activities. Responsibility for their laboratory financial issues and laboratory space remains with their Program Directors. 

Michael Green, recruited by Czech to Molecular Medicine from Harvard in 1990, was appointed in 2001 founding Director of the new Program in Gene Function and Expression located in the Lazar Research Building. Green recruited numerous faculty and many of those faculty in his Program elected to have their primary faculty appointment in Molecular Medicine. In 2015, Green was appointed Chair of a new Department of Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology, which includes these faculty and they now retain joint appointments in Molecular Medicine. Several other Programs have been established at the Medical School as well, with many newly recruited faculty joining Molecular Medicine as primary faculty appointments.  In addition, Craig Peterson, first recruited to Molecular Medicine as an Assistant Professor in 1991 and now Professor, was appointed as Vice Chair of Molecular Medicine in 2004 and continues to serve in this position. 

Thus Molecular Medicine now has approximately 35 faculty with primary faculty appointments and 14 faculty with joint appointments who are active in faculty meetings, personnel action deliberations (including tenure decisions), retreats, seminars and journal clubs, faculty searches in the Program and social functions. Molecular Medicine sponsors a monthly “in house” seminar program for its own faculty seminars followed by faculty luncheon meetings, graduate student and postdoctoral fellow-initiated outside speaker seminar programs, and monthly Chalk Talks for all Molecular Medicine faculty.

 Molecular Medicine accomplishments in research have been recognized by the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded to Craig Mello (shared with Andrew Fire of Stanford University), the 2008 Lasker Basic Medical Research Award  to Victor Ambros (shared with Gary Ruvkun of Harvard and David Baulcombe of Cambridge University), the 2105 Breakthrough Prize (shared with Gary Ruvkun of Harvard) to Victor Ambros, the 2007 Medical Foundation Basic Science Award to David Lambright, the Lillian Jean Kaplan Memorial Award to Greg Pazour, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator appointments to Michael Green, Roger Davis, and Craig Mello, and membership in the National Academy of Sciences (Green, Mello and Ambros) and the Royal Society of London (Davis). Many other Molecular Medicine faculty have been recognized by awards for outstanding contributions in their fields of specialty, for example, a 2012 NIDA Avant Garde award to Jeremy Luban, the 2000 Banting Award to Michael Czech and the Elizabeth Glaser Scientist Award to Katherine Luzuriaga. Pew Scholar awards have been bestowed upon Tom Fazzio, Bert van den Berg and David Guertin. 

 The Program in Molecular Medicine offers within its building a broad spectrum of state-of-the-art methodologies to its laboratory groups including deep sequencing, ultrafast 3D digital imaging microscopy (wide field and TIRF) of live cells, spinning disc confocal microscopy, x-ray crystallography, mouse metabolic phenotyping, mouse knockout technology, CRISPR and RNAi-based gene silencing in vitro and in vivo. Medical School Core facilities also make available a large number of additional technologies such as FACS analysis, gene profiling using microarrays, proteomics and both shRNA and small molecule screening. Expertise in chemistry, structural biology, biochemistry, cell and developmental biology, molecular biology, cell signaling and regulation, genomics and proteomics, bioinformatics, genetics, immunology and virology is strongly represented in the Program in Molecular Medicine. Program faculty members are also active in the teaching of these disciplines in both core and advanced courses for graduate and medical students. Structural biology at the UMass Medical School is supported by state-of-the-art X-ray and NMR core facilities housed in the Program in Molecular Medicine and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology. Diffraction instrumentation includes three rotating anode X-ray generators equipped with R-axis IV, Mar 300 and Mar 350 image plates detectors, Osmic focusing mirrors, and nitrogen cryostreams. NMR instrumentation includes 400 MHz and 600 MHz Varian spectrometers equipped for multidimensional homonuclear and heteronuclear experiments. Computational resources include graphics workstations and multiprocessor Beowulf clusters for data processing, image reconstruction, 3D visualization, model building, refinement, molecular dynamics, and structural bioinformatics. Molecular Medicine laboratory groups utilize many model organisms in their research, including yeast, worms, flies, mice and nonhuman primates. Translational research on human subjects is also vigorously pursued with collaborators in clinical departments.

 Faculty laboratory groups within the Program in Molecular Medicine are led by academic leaders in their respective fields of biology and medicine. The multidisciplinary nature of the Program has led to a significant number of collaborative publications by multiple laboratories. This is further enhanced by strong seminar and journal club activities as well as joint laboratory group meetings and consortium grants such as Keck and NIH-funded program projects. Based on its success in research and teaching, the Program attracts large numbers of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and visiting scientists who in turn greatly enrich its scientific environment.