Susumu Tonegawa to step down from Picower Institute leadership

Founding director will devote energies to research


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Patti Richards
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Professor Susumu Tonegawa has announced his intention to step down as director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT effective Dec. 31, when his current appointment expires, to devote himself to research. Tonegawa is the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience in MIT's Departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and of Biology.

Provost L. Rafael Reif noted, "MIT is grateful for the impact Professor Tonegawa has had in transforming the Institute into a world leader in neuroscience research. We look forward to his continuing contributions and his commitment to ongoing collaborations within MIT's neuroscience community."

Tonegawa has been at MIT since 1981, when he was appointed professor of biology and joined the Institute's Center for Cancer Research. In 1987, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his seminal discovery on the genetic origin of antibody diversity. He became the founding director of the Center for Learning and Memory at MIT, predecessor of the Picower Institute, in 1994.

"Susumu Tonegawa is without question one of the most remarkable scientists I have ever known," said Mriganka Sur, head of MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. "Few researchers make truly memorable discoveries in a single field of investigation. Susumu is one of the rare few who has been able to work at the highest level in two different areas of specialization."

Research at the Picower Institute seeks to unravel the mechanisms behind the quintessentially human capacities to remember and learn, as well as related functions such as perception, attention and consciousness. "Through its extraordinary faculty," noted Reif, "the Picower Institute has made remarkable contributions to neuroscience at MIT and worldwide. We will continue our support of their pioneering work with the greatest enthusiasm."

In announcing his decision, Tonegawa praised his "world-class" faculty colleagues at the Picower Institute and the generosity and vision of the donors and sponsors with which it is associated, notably Jeffry and Barbara Picower, founders of The Picower Foundation, and RIKEN of Japan.

Tonegawa received his Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of California at San Diego and joined the Basel Institute for Immunology after postdoctoral training at the Salk Institute. His awards include the Gairdner Foundation International Award, the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize and the Albert and Mary Lasker Award. In 1984, the emperor of Japan awarded him the Order of Culture "Bunkakunsho." His current research interest is in deciphering the molecular, cellular and neuronal circuit mechanisms underlying memory. He has been an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1988.

An interim director for the Picower Institute will be named before Dec. 31.


Topics: Neuroscience, Faculty

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