A Kind of Magic

At the last School of Science breakfast of the 2011 – 2012 academic year, more than 50 alumni and friends gathered in the MIT Faculty Club. On May 19, 2012, Hazel Sive, Professor of Biology, Member of the Whitehead Institute, and Associate Dean of the School of Science gave a fascinating talk entitled “A Kind Magic: How Biological Systems Build Complex 3D Organs.” Her talk focused on how cells in living systems organize into tissues, which are then built into complex organs, whose function is tightly connected to their 3D structure – the fundamental property of living systems. Changing the shapes of cells, sticking them together, or moving them around controls this biological tissue engineering.

Sive shared that almost every organ includes one or more tubes, with carefully controlled diameter, permeability, and stiffness. The human brain is made from a closed tube filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Too much or too little CSF is devastating for brain health throughout life, leading to birth defects such as hydrocephalus and, in elderly patients, to a disorder that mimics Alzheimer’s. Key factors within the fluid control the survival of neurons and the proliferation of neural stem cells.

The Sive Laboratory uses frog and zebra fish embryos to experiment since they develop external to the mother and are easily studied. These experiments emphasize the role that non-human animal systems play in investigating normal and pathological processes.

Some alumni and friends who attended include Sherwin Greenblatt ’62 (VI), S.M. ’64 (VI); Bob Merton Ph.D. ’70 (XIV); John Reed ’61 (XV), S.M. ’65 (XV), Chairman of the Corporation; Thomas Stone ’60 (XIV B) and his wife Valerie Warrior.