The Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology will receive $25 million out of the $300 million gift from Joan and Sanford Weill to Weill Cornell Medical College and to Cornell's Ithaca campus, and the institute will be named for them.
The Joan and Sanford I. Weill Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology (ICMB) -- a cornerstone of the university's plan to restructure the life sciences to keep up with advances in genomics -- is intended to be a world-class institution that will raise the stature of cell biology on campus and provide opportunities for continued research synergies with the medical college in Manhattan.
The interdisciplinary institute will apply all the major disciplines within the life sciences, including genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry, to the workings of the cell itself. It also will link cell biology with the physical sciences, where such fields as physics, chemistry, applied engineering, chemical engineering, computational sciences and the latest technologies may advance our understanding of the cell.
"The institute will be both the physical and intellectual hub for interdisciplinary research toward understanding fundamental processes common to all cells," said Scott Emr, the institute's director, a world-renowned biologist who will recruit 11 new faculty members and help develop and lead the institute.
Already, Emr and colleagues have hired an institute manager and established an internal advisory committee. Plans for the design of interior laboratory space and office spaces in the new Life Sciences Technology Building are also nearly complete. Draft plans to list three new faculty positions are approved, and their searches will begin in August or September.
Once hired, the institute's interdisciplinary researchers will work in three main directions: developing new imaging techniques to allow researchers to visualize events in cells; using computational biology, which combines mathematics and computer science to model biology; and seeking better understanding of cellular structure at the atomic level, where proteins and other components can be seen working as a whole system.
Emr, who joined the Cornell faculty in 2007, works on uncovering the molecular details of essential processes that occur in all cells. For example, Emr has helped explain how proteins get in and out of cells -- processes called endocytosis and secretion -- which has provided other scientists with new pathways and targets for cutting-edge research on virology, HIV/AIDS, cancer, immunology, development and neurobiology. At Cornell, among other research, Emr seeks to better understand how neurons in the brain can last a lifetime by studying neurons' ability to rid themselves of inactive or damaged proteins. When impaired, these so-called "garbage clean-up mechanisms" can lead to some 40 known inherited neuronal and degenerative diseases, like Tay-Sachs disease.
Emr earned his Ph.D. in microbiology and molecular genetics at Harvard University in 1981. Prior to joining the Cornell faculty, he was a professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The institute is part of the New Life Sciences fund-raising campaign and will be funded mostly through gifts and endowments.