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Allen Discovery Centers

The Allen Discovery Centers are leadership-driven, compass-guided research centers, often created in partnership with major research organizations and universities.

The Allen Discovery Centers offer a unique funding level and mechanism, allowing for a larger-scale impact in their field.

The Centers embody our commitment to launching and fostering development of entire new fields in biology—with infinite potential to impact human knowledge and health.

We make patient, long-term commitments to these Centers, typically providing $10 million for the first four years, with the potential to expand in a second four year phase with an additional $10 million, matched by partner support, for a potential total scope of activity of $30 million.

The Allen Discovery Centers interact—with each other, with the Allen Distinguished Investigators, and with the larger community—through a rich network of events and associations. Allen Discovery Center leaders and teams are essential members of our creative, passionate community of explorers.

The Allen Discovery Center for Cell Lineage Tracing at UW Medicine, Caltech, and University of Basel was announced in 2017 to generate global maps of cell lineage in complex organisms.
The Allen Discovery Center for Cell Lineage Tracing at UW Medicine, Caltech, and University of Basel was announced in 2017 to generate global maps of cell lineage in complex organisms.

Allen Discovery Center for Cell Lineage Tracing at UW Medicine, Caltech, and the University of Basel

Scientists have been asking questions about the ancestry and lineage of cells for over a century, but tracing the relationships between generations of cells has faced significant technical challenges. In the past several years, teams led by Jay Shendure, M.D., Ph.D., at the University of Washington, Michael Elowitz, Ph.D., and Long Cai, Ph.D., at Caltech and Alex Schier, Ph.D., at Harvard have created new technologies that take advantage of modern gene editing methods to effectively trace cells as they divide, move and differentiate throughout an organism’s development.

The Allen Discovery Center for Cell Lineage Tracing will use these new technologies and paradigms to develop lineage maps for the zebrafish and mouse – the first global maps of development in any vertebrate. They will also develop genomic systems to record the molecular events that regulate development. The Center’s other investigators are Carlos Lois, Ph.D., research professor of Biology at Caltech, Marshall Horwitz, M.D., Ph.D., UW professor of Pathology, and Cole Trapnell, Ph.D., UW assistant professor of Genome Sciences, Magda Zernicka-Goetz, Ph.D., professor of Biology and Biological Engineering at Caltech, and Kelley Harris, Ph.D., assistant professor of Genome Sciences at UW.

Three male researchers, one of them Jay Shendure, leaning against a table in a lab

Jay Shendure and colleagues

Image of Human Accelerated Regions in the Brain. The Allen Discovery Center for Human Brain Evolution at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School was announced in 2017 to understand how the human brain evolved and what makes it unique.
Image of Human Accelerated Regions in the Brain. The Allen Discovery Center for Human Brain Evolution at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School was announced in 2017 to understand how the human brain evolved and what makes it unique.

Allen Discovery Center for Human Brain Evolution at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School

The human brain is the product of remarkable evolutionary changes that have resulted in our ability to use language, create complex societies, pursue science and create art. While we have some understanding of the genes that separate all modern humans from other primates, none of those genes can explain changes in behavior that took place in the last 50,000 years, meaning there is no simple genetic “switch” that can explain key aspects of brain evolution.

The Allen Discovery Center for Human Brain Evolution will take a multidisciplinary approach to this question, with the goals of identifying key genes required for human brain evolution, analyzing their roles in human behavior and cognition, and studying their functions to discover evolutionary mechanisms. Joining Walsh, who will be leading the center, are co-leads Michael Greenberg, Ph.D., and David E. Reich, Ph.D., at Harvard Medical School and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, bringing together expertise in neuronal molecular biology, human evolution, genetics and genomics.

Lead Investigator

Flatworm image. The Allen Discovery Center for Reading and Writing the Morphogenetic Code at Tufts University was announced in 2016 to read and write the code that controls organ shape in regeneration, growth, and cancer.
Flatworm image. The Allen Discovery Center for Reading and Writing the Morphogenetic Code at Tufts University was announced in 2016 to read and write the code that controls organ shape in regeneration, growth, and cancer.

Allen Discovery Center for Reading and Writing the Morphogenetic Code at Tufts University

Living systems are able not just to grow tissues, but to maintain them over time and, in some cases, regenerate them when they are altered by injury or disease. Underlying this ability is the morphogenetic code, which consists of the mechanisms and information structures by which networks of cells represent and dynamically regulate the target morphology of the system.

The Allen Discovery Center for Reading and Writing the Morphogenetic Code at Tufts University was announced in 2016 to read and write the code that controls organ shape in regeneration, growth, and cancer.

Researcher seated at a table analyzing data on a laptop

microscope imageAllen Discovery Center for Multiscale, Systems Modeling of Macrophage Infection at Stanford University

Multiscale models that can integrate data from the levels of genes and proteins to a full cell, to collections of cells within a tissue, and ultimately to tissues and organs, is a grand challenge for systems biology. These kinds of models will be capable of predicting how perturbations at one level of scale, such as gene expression, affect important outcomes at other levels of scale, like phenotype and function.

The Allen Discovery Center for Multiscale, Systems Modeling of Macrophage Infection at Stanford University was announced in 2016 to drive progress in cutting-edge cell systems modeling to understand the complex multicellular basis of infectious disease.

Lead Investigator