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Regev receives Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science

Apr. 28, 2021, 2:56 PM


Aviv Regev, PhD

by Bill Snyder

Aviv Regev, PhD, an internationally known computational and systems biologist and executive vice president of Genentech Research and Early Development (gRED), is the recipient of the 2021 Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science, officials at Vanderbilt University Medical Center announced this week.

Based in South San Francisco, Regev is a leader in deciphering complex molecular circuits that govern cells, tissues and organs — how these circuits function and evolve, and how their malfunction leads to disease.

“Dr. Regev’s prolific contributions include pioneering experimental and computational methods in single-cell genomics that have enabled greater understanding of the function of cells and tissues in human health and disease,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of VUMC and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “I am honored to congratulate her as the 2021 Vanderbilt Prize recipient.”

Established in 2006 by VUSM, the Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science recognizes women scientists with a stellar record of research accomplishments who also have made significant contributions to mentoring other women in science.

Prize winners receive an honorarium, present a special seminar and mentor a Vanderbilt Prize Scholar, a woman pursuing graduate studies in the biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Regev’s award presentation and Vanderbilt Prize lecture will be held a year from now, on April 14, 2022.

“We are thrilled Dr. Regev is the recipient of the 2021 Vanderbilt Prize,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, VUMC Executive Vice President for Research and the Benjamin F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology.

“She is an inspiring role model who passes along her love of science through her mentorship and collaboration while opening up new data science directions in biology.

“From early in her career, Dr. Regev has thought of cells as computers comprised of circuits,” Pietenpol added.

“She is both a computational biologist with keen instincts about extracting insight from data, and an experimental biologist with the ability to create new methods and deploy cutting-edge technology to address fundamental questions.”

“I am incredibly honored to be recognized among such esteemed women who have blazed trails in science and medicine and have mentored other fantastic women scientists,” Regev said. “I believe that computational and interdisciplinary approaches to scientific discovery will be critical in fueling future biological insights, as well as medical breakthroughs for patients.

“Mentoring and collaboration with diverse scientists is critical for sustaining the innovation, creativity and rigor essential as we leverage those new opportunities,” she continued. “I’m pleased to further these approaches and continue to mentor and collaborate with scientists at all stages of their careers to nurture their pursuit of creative ideas that could transform science and medicine.”

As head of gRED, Regev is responsible for the management of all aspects of Genentech’s drug discovery and drug development activities. She is a member of the Genentech Executive Committee and the expanded Roche Corporate Executive Committee. Genentech has been a part of the Roche Group since 2009.

Prior to Genentech, Regev was chair of the faculty, core institute member and founding director of the Klarman Cell Observatory at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard, professor of Biology at MIT (currently on leave), and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

She also is a founding co-chair of the Human Cell Atlas initiative, an international community of scientists working to create comprehensive reference maps of all human cells — the fundamental units of life — as a basis for understanding human health and diagnosing, monitoring and treating disease.

A graduate of Tel Aviv University, Regev earned her Master of Science degree with an emphasis on biology, computer science and mathematics and, in 2003, her PhD in computational biology.

After graduation, Regev came to the United States as a fellow at the Bauer Center for Genomics Research at Harvard University, where she pursued her interest in modeling cell circuits using gene expression and genomic data. She and her colleagues also developed several widely used algorithms and computational tools.

In 2006 Regev joined the faculties of the MIT and the Broad Institute, where she started applying her cell circuit modeling algorithms to different cell types, particularly cells of the immune system.

In 2012 she became the founding director of the Klarman Cell Observatory to further develop experimental and computational technologies in this area, and particularly to usher in the then-nascent field of single-cell genomics.

By 2015 Regev was professor of biology at MIT and co-director of the Cell Circuits Program at the Broad Institute. She also mentored dozens of postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and undergraduates and maintained an intense teaching load.

Many of these trainees are now leading scientists in academia and industry, pursuing their own ambitious research programs.

“I always feel compelled to pay particular attention to people and their ideas,” Regev said. “Career stage or background does not matter — what matters is the person, their passion and their idea. Do they have a vision? Would this vision be transformative? Do they have a path to pursue it?

“As I mentor students and postdocs, or as I work with fellow scientists, I want to be their colleague and collaborator as they grow and help them realize their vision. I have benefited from this kind of empowering mentorship, and I try to pay it forward by empowering others.”

Regev has served on multiple corporate advisory, scientific advisory and journal editorial boards, including the advisory committee to the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

She has authored or co-authored more than 300 peer-reviewed publications. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and National Academy of Medicine, and also a Fellow of the American Association of Cancer Research Academy and the International Society of Computational Biology (ISCB).

Among her many honors are ISCB’s Overton and Innovator Awards, the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, the NAS’s James Prize in Science and Technology Integration, the Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences from the Foundation for the NIH, and the Keio Medical Science Prize from the Keio University Medical Science Fund.

Regev is the 16th recipient of the Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science. For a complete list of winners, go to the VUMC Office of Research website at and click on the pull-down menu on the “Research” tab.

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