October 20, 2006

Lecture to explore brain’s regeneration mechanisms

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Lecture to explore brain’s regeneration mechanisms

Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Ph.D.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Ph.D.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Ph.D., senior vice president for research drug discovery at Genentech Inc., will deliver the fourth Vanderbilt Discovery Lecture at 4 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 26, in 208 Light Hall.

His lecture is entitled “Wiring Nerves, Wiring Vessels: Common Mechanisms of Axon Guidance, Regeneration, and Vascular Patterning.”

In 1994, Tessier-Lavigne reported the discovery of the first “axonal guidance factor,” a protein called netrin-1 that attracts axons to the nerve cells that secrete it.

Since then, he and his colleagues have made important contributions to understanding brain rewiring and regeneration, as well as tumor angiogenesis, the growth of new tumor blood vessels.

“Many of the molecules and mechanisms that direct growing blood vessels are the same as those that direct growing nerves,” Tessier-Lavigne explains in his profile on the Genentech Web site, www.gene.com. “The interrelatedness of many biological processes, discovered over the past decade, means that insights from neurobiology can help in the study of cancer, and vice versa.”

A native of Canada, Tessier-Lavigne grew up in London and Brussels. He received a bachelor's degree in physics from McGill University in Montreal and, as a Rhodes Scholar, a second degree in philosophy and physiology at Oxford University. In 1987 he received his doctorate in physiology from University College London.

Tessier-Lavigne was on the faculty at the University of California, San Francisco, and later at Stanford University, and he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator before joining Genentech in 2003.

The biotech giant, perhaps best known for its breast cancer drug, Herceptin, previously did not have a neuroscience program. But it offered Tessier-Lavigne the chance to oversee two-thirds of the company's research operation, according to an article in the January 2004 issue of Nature Medicine.

Tessier-Lavigne describes Genentech as “a vibrant and exciting scientific culture,” accentuated by the involvement of post-doctoral fellows. “Like a university, Genentech believes it's important to have a steady stream of young people who tackle fundamental problems in basic and translational biology and who are ready to challenge assumptions,” he says.

His talk at Vanderbilt also is one of a series of lectures honoring the late Paul D. Lamson, M.D., who organized the Department of Pharmacology and who served as its first chair from 1925 to 1952.

For a complete schedule of the Discovery Lecture Series and archived video of previous lectures, go to www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/discoveryseries.