February 15, 2002

Wente to lead Cell and Developmental Biology

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Wente to lead Cell and Developmental Biology

Susan R. Wente, Ph.D., has been named professor and chair of Cell and Developmental Biology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Currently a member of the department of Cell Biology & Physiology at Washington University School of Medicine, she will assume her new post July 1, 2002.

In order to reflect the internationally recognized research in developmental biology among the faculty, the department has recently undergone a change in identity from the former designation of Cell Biology. Wente’s appointment provides a solid foundation for continued growth in that area.

“The vision that Susan Wente brings to Vanderbilt is very exciting,” said Lee E. Limbird, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research. “She clearly sees the synergism of integrating the disciplines of cell biology and developmental biology to create a stimulating research and training environment.”

Wente appreciates the interdisciplinary strengths already in place and plans to capitalize on them in guiding the department further along this track.

“There is a real commitment of intent and resources at Vanderbilt,” said Wente. “I find this particularly exciting because it will put the department in a unique place on the international stage in cell and developmental biology research.”

Wente’s own research is focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms behind the highly selective, bidirectional exchange of macromolecules between the nucleus and the cytoplasm. This nucleocytoplasmic trafficking occurs through specialized portals in the nuclear envelope—called nuclear pore complexes (NPCs) —and is responsible for regulatory signaling of cell cycle and developmental switches.

Wente is using yeast genetic strategies along with green fluorescent-tagged NPCs to define NPC assembly, which results from the coming together of at least 30 different polypeptides, and to monitor NPC dynamics in live cells. Her lab is also investigating the mechanisms involved in transport through NPCs in yeast, including how karyopherins—mobile nuclear transport proteins—facilitate movement, and the steps and regulatory elements involved in mRNA export pathways. In addition, the lab is following up on a recent discovery of nuclear inositol polyphosphate signaling pathways that regulate transcription and mRNA export.

Both yeast and mammalian systems are now used in her research, according to Wente, to explore how stimuli “faithfully trigger the correct synchrony between gene expression, DNA repair, and genome duplication to regulate cell growth and survival.”

Wente received her doctoral degree in biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1988.

Her post-doctoral training studying insulin receptor signaling at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York was followed by a second post-doctoral position with Nobel Laureate Gunter Blobel at the Laboratory of Cell Biology at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Rockefeller University, also in New York. She joined the faculty of the department of Cell Biology & Physiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis in 1993.

Wente recently received a Kirsch Investigator Award, and has previously received a Beckman Foundation Young Investigator Award and an American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Research Award. She was named Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor by the Commission on Teaching at the University of California, Berkeley.

Currently, Wente is an editor for the journal Molecular and Cellular Biology, and is co-director of the Medical Scientist Training Program Steering and Admissions Committee at Washington University.

Wente’s striking achievements did not go unnoticed by the individuals responsible for her nomination for the position, according to Dr. Arnold W. Strauss, James C. Overall Professor and Chair of Pediatrics, who led the search committee.

“Despite her relatively young age, Dr. Wente was recruited because of her very strong record of accomplishment at Washington University in St. Louis, including her skills working with graduate student programs and as editor of a major scientific journal,” Strauss said. “During the interview process, it was apparent that she was the unanimous choice among seven excellent candidates.”

Dr. Steven G. Gabbe, dean of the School of Medicine, anticipates that Wente’s leadership skills and breadth of experience will enable an already accomplished department to reach new heights.

“Susan is an outstanding scientist, nationally recognized, with a focus in a very exciting field,” Gabbe said. “Her innovative ideas for bettering the department will enrich the environment for faculty and students alike. We are delighted to have her at Vanderbilt, and, of course, there is the added benefit of her husband, Chris Hardy, a notable scientist in his own right, joining the faculty, as well.”

Wente and her husband, Christopher F. J. Hardy, Ph.D., who has accepted the position of associate professor in the department, have two daughters, Allison, 6, and Lindsay, 3. The family will be relocating to the area over the next few months.

“I’m extremely pleased about this appointment,” Wente said. “This represents a real step up for me, and I’m looking forward to working in such a genuinely collaborative atmosphere.”