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Gary Bassell appointed chair of Cell Biology in Emory School of Medicine

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Quinn Eastman

Gary Bassell, PhD, has been appointed chair of the Department of Cell Biology in Emory University School of Medicine. Bassell joined the Emory faculty in 2005 and has been professor in the Departments of Cell Biology and Neurology since 2009. His laboratory focuses on how messenger RNA is transported and regulated within neurons, how those processes are disrupted in neurological diseases, and potential therapeutic strategies.

"Gary is an international leader in cell biology and pioneer in the field of RNA transport and translational control in neurons," says Allan Levey, MD, PhD, chair of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine and director of the Emory Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. "His work has advanced understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in RNA-based neurological diseases, including fragile X syndrome and spinal muscular atrophy."

Since 2012, Bassell has been director of the Laboratory of Translational Cell Biology (LTCB), an Emory facility whose objective is to establish "disease in a dish" models of neurologic diseases using induced pluripotent stem cells derived from cells from Emory patients.

"The LTCB holds great promise to advance many collaborative research efforts aimed at understanding mechanisms of disease and development of new therapies," Levey says.

Previously, Bassell served as director of microscopy cores for more than 10 years and was part of the leadership team that formed the Woodruff Health Sciences Center's Integrated Cellular Imaging core. He says he sees the strengths in the Cell Biology department coming from its talented faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, together doing cutting edge research at the intersection of the fields of cell biology, developmental biology and neuroscience.

"My goals are to recruit new faculty to synergize with ongoing research and further build upon our strengths, and to forge new partnerships between investigators in basic mechanistic research and those involved in translational research and clinical care," Bassell says.  

Bassell's ground-breaking research began as a graduate student with Robert Singer, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he demonstrated that specific messenger RNAs are found in sites in cells that are distinct from the standard protein synthesis machinery associated with the endoplasmic reticulum.

"This unexpected observation suggested that mRNA is trafficked to specialized areas of the cell, where it is translated into proteins required for site-specific functions," says Barry Shur, PhD, who was chair of Cell Biology at Emory when Bassell was recruited to Emory from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 2005. "Since then, Gary has made important contributions to our understanding of mRNA trafficking to the growth cones of developing neurons and to the maturing synapse. His work spans issues pertinent to the basic mechanisms of mRNA trafficking to the defects underlying a range of neurological diseases."

After postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School with Kenneth Kosik, MD, Bassell joined Albert Einstein's Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology and subsequently moved to its Department of Neuroscience and Rose F. Kennedy Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center.

Bassell has received several prestigious awards to recognize his research achievements, including the Basal O'Connor Scholar Award from the March of Dimes Foundation (1996), the Dana Foundation Award in Brain Imaging (2004), a Trailblazer Award from Autism Speaks Foundation (2011) and a NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Award (2013).

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