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Message form Frederick W. Alt, Ph.D., Director of the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine

In the Fall of 2012, the Immune Disease Institute (IDI), which has operated as an independent academic research organization for nearly 60 years fully merged with Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH), becoming the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine (PCMM). This merger was and an exciting opportunity for the IDI scientist to augment and extend our research, interact with clinical scientists on a daily basis, and to translate our basic science discoveries. In looking forward to our future at BCH, I think it's worthwhile to also look back at our past. What's now known as the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital has been entwined with Children's from the beginning. We were established in 1953 as the Protein Foundation, an offshoot of basic research at Harvard Medical School (HMS), and later renamed as the Blood Research Institute. In 1972, that Institute merged with the Blood Grouping Laboratory at Children's (founded by the renowned pediatric hematologist, Louis Diamond) to become the Center for Blood Research. The CBR's first president was the late Charles A. Janeway, then Children's Physician-in-Chief, and whose endowed chair I now hold. Douglas M. Surgenor was the President from 1972 - 1986 and Chester Alper was the Scientific Director of the CBR from 1972-1993. Chester is still an active investigator with us today. Eileen Remold, who is also still active with us today, was another early IDI member joining CBR in 1976.

CBR moved from its original building, on the site of Children's current Enders Building, to a somewhat remote location at 800 Huntington Avenue, previously the site of a car dealership. In 1986, CBR became affiliated with Harvard Medical School (HMS).

The following year was pivotal. The late Fred Rosen became CBR's president, and over subsequent years, Fred was instrumental in recruiting and mentoring a truly outstanding collection of immunologists and other prominent scientists starting early on with Tim Springer and then with others including current senior investigators Judy Lieberman, Tom Kirchhausen, Denisa Wagner and Michael Carroll. All of these investigators continue to maintain extremely active labs at the PCMM/IDI. I was recruited from Columbia University in 1991. My joint CBR/BCH recruitment was led by Fred Rosen and by David Nathan, the former Pediatrician-in-Chief of Children's and former President of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. 

In 1992, CBR expanded to the Warren Alpert Building on the HMS campus and in 2003, the CBR was renamed the CBR Institute for Biomedical Research (CBRI) to reflect its expanded scope of research. For more than a decade, the CBR had labs in both the Warren Alpert Building and the Huntington Avenue location. In 2005, I became scientific director of the CBRI, succeeding Fred Rosen. Two years later, our name changed one more time - to the Immune Disease Institute (IDI) - and Ted Cronin, our long time chief financial officer, was named president and CEO. In 2012 IDI has brought everyone back to the Longwood campus, vacating 800 Huntington Avenue for space on the third floor of the new Center for Life Sciences building. This move brought a number of our investigators next door to Children's Karp research building, where I maintain my own lab. All of us are now located in the heart of the Longwood biomedical research community, and we are very happy to be here.

In February 2009, IDI entered into a formal affiliation with Children's. Being part of a larger research enterprise has increased our financial stability, but this merger was also scientifically motivated. Children's was the obvious scientific partner for IDI, with its exceptionally strong basic research programs and our long and rich joint history. Though PCMM/IDI's major focus is immunology, our investigators also work in cancer biology, cell biology, genetics and genomics, and many other areas that dovetail with programs at Children's.

Collaborations with scientists at Children's have already begun - in immunology, hematology, pulmonary medicine and more - and the opportunities for further interactions are tremendous. These collaborations will be enhanced by bringing PCMM researchers into close proximity with Children's scientists - for example, by bringing the huge talents of Children's Stephen Harrison and his colleagues into close physical proximity with those of PCMM's Tim Springer and Hao Wu and PCMM junior faculty Sun Hur and Wesley Wong in the Center for Life Sciences building. This clustering of BCH and PCMM scientists arguably forms one of the great structural biology centers in the world.

Our goals for the future? A major goal is to continue developing synergistic interactions with Children's researchers, particularly in imaging, genomics and computational biology. We're also excited about working with Children's clinical scientists in seeking more applications for our work, and in building on our past successes -- from discovering integrins, the basis for two psoriasis drugs, to developing small interfering RNAs that target viral and host genes and that potentially act as prophylactics against herpes and HIV.

A major PCMM/IDI goal has been to build up our core of senior and junior faculty.  In this regard, we were able to recruit two outstanding new senior faculty: Hao Wu, a structural biologist who studies structure of innate immune and inflammatory signaling complexes and Yi Zhang, a Howard Hughes Investigator who studies enzymes that mediate DNA and histone demethylation.  We are happy to announce that Hao Wu was recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences. We have also made four spectacular junior faculty hires: Derrick Rossi, a stem cell biologist focusing on hematopoietic stem cells; Sun Hur, a structural biologist with expertise in X-ray crystallography; Florian Winau, a top-notch basic immunologist focusing on innate immunity and antigen presentation, and Wesley Wong who previously held a prestigious Rowland Institute fellowship at Harvard University. We believe that the current crop of junior faculty have strong potential to be future stars and will continue to advance into the foreseeable future the tradition of world leading basic science that has been a trademark of the CBR/CBRI/IDI/PCMM. 

I greatly look forward to our annual scientific retreats held in September at the SeaCrest Resort on Cape Cod. This year, this major event for PCMM will be enhanced by two keynote talks from Clare Waterman from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NIH) and Margaret Shipp of Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and as always, the interactions with the world-class scientists on our scientific advisory board. I anticipate a fascinating weekend, with plenty of great interactions.


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