Studying these cells could lead to new treatments for diseases ranging from gastrointestinal disease to diabetes.
Professor Li-Huei Tsai will begin her new role as director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory (PILM) on July 1, 2009. Tsai, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator studying brain development and neuropsychiatric disorders, will succeed current director Mark Bear.
"Professor Tsai is a distinguished molecular neuroscientist with a clear vision of the future role of PILM," said Marc Kastner, dean of the School of Science. "I am thrilled that she has agreed to take on the leadership of the world's leading center for the study of learning and memory, and I look forward to helping in her ambition to make it even better."
PILM was founded in 1994 with the goal of providing a world-class environment for research and education in neuroscience focusing on learning and memory. The institute aims to unlock the mechanisms of learning and memory at the molecular, cellular, circuit and systems levels - mechanisms that are key to understanding the pathophysiology of neurological disorders affecting cognition and exploring new approaches for therapeutic intervention.
Tsai's own research has gone a long way toward these goals. For more than a decade, Tsai has investigated the role of a protein kinase called Cdk5 in the development of Alzheimer's disease. Her research on Cdk5 has not only revealed some of the underlying mechanisms of this challenging and widespread disease, but has also shed light on the processes that allow us to remember and learn. Tsai's research suggests that Cdk5-related proteins could boost synaptic growth and improve some kinds of memory.
Tsai has also made significant inroads to understanding abnormalities in brain structure and function that lead to neurological disorders such as autism, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. Most recently, she and other MIT researchers published a paper in the journal Nature describing a new technique for disrupting high-frequency brain waves associated with schizophrenia called "gamma oscillations." Tsai and her colleagues hope to use their new research tool to explain the role of gamma oscillations in brain function and lead the way to new treatments for schizophrenia and other brain-related disorders.
Because Tsai's research is collaborative, she values the opportunities for cooperation enabled by PILM. Tsai says she has been able to foster "collaborations with colleagues both within and outside the Picower Institute," and to promote, "relationships between the MIT neuroscience community and the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute."
Before joining PILM and the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT in 2006, Tsai served on the faculty of the Department of Pathology at the Harvard Medical School for 12 years. She received her PhD degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, followed by postdoctoral training at Ed Harlow's laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor and Massachusetts General Hospital. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the Academia Sinica of Taiwan.