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Erik Sontheimer, PhD

Professor, RNA Therapeutics Institute, UMass Chan Medical School



Erik J. Sontheimer, Ph.D., is the Pillar Chair in Biomedical Research and Professor at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, where he is also Vice Chair of the RNA Therapeutics Institute. He earned his Ph.D. from Yale in 1992, where he studied pre-mRNA splicing mechanisms in Joan Steitz’ laboratory. Following postdoctoral work with Joe Piccirilli at the University of Chicago, Sontheimer joined the faculty at Northwestern in 1999. He continued his work on the roles of RNA molecules in gene expression, including RNA interference mechanisms as well as the study of CRISPR immune systems in pathogenic bacteria. Among other advances, in 2008 his group reported that CRISPR systems target DNA molecules directly, and they became the first to recognize and articulate CRISPR’s potential for RNA-guided genome engineering. He has been honored with a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, a New Investigator Award in the Basic Pharmacological Sciences from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, a Basil O’Conner Award from the March of Dimes, a Scholar Award from the American Cancer Society, a Distinguished Teaching Award from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, the Nestlé Award from the American Society for Microbiology, the Mid-Career Award from the RNA Society, and election to the American Academy of Microbiology. He recently completed a term as Co-chair of the Steering Committee for the NIH Somatic Cell Genome Editing Consortium, and he currently serves as Co-chair of the Board of Scientific Counselors at the National Cancer Institute and as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board at Tessera Therapeutics. In 2014 he co-founded Intellia Therapeutics, Inc. for the development of clinical applications of CRISPR gene editing. That same year he also moved to UMass Chan Medical School, where he is continuing his research on the uses of RNA molecules in biomedical research and the treatment of human disease.