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Allen Institute for Cell Science Announces Scientific Directors

Multi-disciplinary team will lead development of the Institute’s inaugural project

February 9, 2016 | Download PDF

The Allen Institute for Cell Science today announced the appointment of its first four scientific directors. The directors will build out collaborative teams of researchers who will develop and incorporate diverse technologies and approaches at a large scale to study the cell as an integrated system. Their first project, the Animated Cell, will be a multi-scale, spatiotemporal, animated model of how the cell executes its functions and what goes wrong in disease.

“We feel very fortunate to have found such a talented, committed, and dynamic team of directors,” said Rick Horwitz, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Allen Institute for Cell Science. “Each director brings to the table a deep passion for the Institute’s mission. Their wealth of knowledge and expertise, as well as their curiosity and commitment to team science, will help us achieve our scientific goals.”

“The Allen Institute for Cell Science is committed to doing unprecedented work in bioscience, observing and modeling the complexity of cells in real time, and working in diverse teams led by these directors will be fundamental to their success,” said Allan Jones, Ph.D., CEO of the Allen Institute.

Ruwanthi (Ru) Gunawardane, Ph.D.
Director, Stem Cells & Gene Editing

Ru Gunawardane joins the Allen Institute after spending five years at Amgen, where she worked on assay development for multiple drug targets spanning oncology, inflammation, and cardiovascular diseases. In her new role, Gunawardane and her team will develop gene edited stem cell lines and work closely with assay development and microscopy to ensure cells remain healthy and suitable for imaging.

“I’ve always been a curious person by nature and I like solving problems,” said Gunawardane. “Some of the problems we are trying to address are very complex, and they require a lot of different people working together -- one person cannot do this alone. That’s why it’s so exciting to be a part of this team.”

Graham Johnson, Ph.D., C.M.I.
Director, Animated Cell

Graham Johnson joins the Allen Institute from the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences at the University of California, San Francisco. There, his lab worked to generate, simulate and visualize molecular models of cells. At the Institute, Johnson and his team will compile all experiment and imaging data into a multi-scale, spatiotemporal and interactive model of the cell.

“For decades, a lot of research has focused on discrete aspects of cell biology. Here at the Allen Institute we’re working to put all the pieces together into the context of the new imaging data to create integrated models of whole cells,” said Johnson. “Ever since I fell in love with cell biology, I’ve dreamed of being able to zoom deep into a cell to better understand its inner workings. Together, I think we’re finally going to accomplish that goal.”

Susanne Rafelski, Ph.D.
Director, Assay Development

Susanne Rafelski comes to the Allen Institute from University of California, Irvine, where she was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Developmental and Cell Biology, the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and the Center for Complex Biological Systems. There she studied cell organization, as well as the size, topology, and function of mitochondrial networks in budding yeast and mammalian cells. At the Allen Institute, Rafelski and her team will develop and refine the experimental methods used to examine and image cells.

“I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to be part of this exciting endeavor,” said Rafelski. “I also feel a great sense of responsibility to do all that I can to achieve our goals. To truly understand the cell, we need to integrate the cell. That is exactly what we are striving to do in a way that empowers the entire research community and beyond.”

Winfried Wiegrabe, Ph.D.
Director, Microscopy & Image Analysis

Winfried Wiegrabe joins the Allen Institute from the Stowers Institute for Medical Research. As head of the Stowers Microscopy Center, Wiegrabe and his team built and supported a number of microscope platforms including, laser micro-dissection, super-resolution and light sheet microscopy. At the Allen Institute, Wiegrabe and his team will use a variety of microscopy techniques to capture still images and movies of live cells.

“Looking through a microscope at cells is for me a bit like looking at art,” said Wiegrabe. “The more you look, the more details you discover. The scale at which we will be working, combined with thorough quantitative analysis, will allow us to explore human cells and function in a way that has never been done before.”

About the Allen Institute for Cell Science

The Allen Institute for Cell Science is a research organization dedicated to understanding and modeling cells: the fundamental units of life. By integrating technologies, approaches, models and data into a common standardized framework, the Allen Institute for Cell Science is creating dynamic, visual models of how genetic information is transformed into cellular behavior, and how the molecules and organelles within each cell interact and function as systems. These predictive models will enable the entire cell science community to better understand the role of cells in both health and disease. The Allen Institute for Cell Science was launched in 2014 with a contribution from founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen. The data, tools and models from the Allen Institute for Cell Science will be publicly available online.