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Two members of the MIT faculty — Peter Reddien and Aviv Regev — have been named Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigators, bringing the total number of MIT professors who hold the distinction to 18.
Selected for their scientific excellence, HHMI investigators remain at their home institutions, but HHMI pays their salaries and funds much of their research. This gives the investigators freedom to explore, change direction in their research and see their ideas through to fruition — even if that process takes many years. Reddien and Regev will begin their five-year HHMI appointments in September.
“HHMI has a very simple mission,” HHMI President Robert Tjian said in announcing the new investigators. “We find the best original-thinking scientists and give them the resources to follow their instincts in discovering basic biological processes that may one day lead to better medical outcomes. This is a very talented group of scientists. And while we cannot predict where their research will take them, we’re eager to help them move science forward.”
Reddien and Regev were among 27 biomedical scientists selected as new HHMI investigators from 1,155 applicants. HHMI currently supports approximately 330 investigators throughout the country, including 15 Nobel laureates and more than 150 members of the National Academy of Sciences.
Peter Reddien is an associate professor of biology and associate head of MIT’s Department of Biology. He is also a member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, an associate member of the Broad Institute and an HHMI Early Career Scientist.
Reddien’s work centers on the study of planaria, flatworms that have regenerative abilities. His lab seeks to identify and understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms that control these worms’ regeneration. His group discovered that planaria are equipped with stem cells that have the capacity to become any type of cell in their bodies — and that these cells create new tissue during regeneration.
Reddien continues to investigate the sources of planaria’s regenerative powers. His insights may lead to new understanding of the genes and pathways that control tissue repair and stem cells in humans. His work may also help reveal the limits of the human body to regenerate lost or injured tissue.
Aviv Regev is an associate professor of biology at MIT. She is also a core faculty member and director of the Klarman Cell Observatory at the Broad Institute and an HHMI Early Career Scientist.
Regev uses computational and experimental approaches to investigate how molecular networks that regulate gene activity respond to genetic and environmental changes — in the short term and over millennia. She has developed, among other things, techniques to analyze how yeast genes and regulatory networks have changed over 300 million years and how circuits change as immune cells respond to pathogens.
Additionally, her lab is using advanced experimental techniques, such as inserting genes into cells with silicon nanowires, to chart the molecular circuitry of T cells. Her algorithms are used in labs around the world to analyze gene expression data and other information.