Cell biologist Chris A. Kaiser, professor and head of the Department of Biology at MIT, has been selected as the new director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). Kaiser, who will take a leave of absence from MIT, expects to start at the NIGMS in spring 2012.
“Dr. Kaiser has tremendous energy and enthusiasm for research and training — two key components of the NIGMS mission — that make him ideal for this position,” says National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins. “His scientific vision, leadership skills, and collaborative spirit are essential assets that will help him guide the institute during this era of great opportunity.”
As NIGMS director, Kaiser will oversee a $2 billion budget, which primarily funds basic research in the areas of cell biology, biophysics, genetics, developmental biology, pharmacology, physiology, biological chemistry, bioinformatics and computational biology. NIGMS supports more than 4,500 research grants — about 10 percent of those funded by the NIH as a whole — as well as a substantial amount of research training and programs designed to increase the diversity of the biomedical and behavioral research workforce.
“In taking this position, I feel a compelling call to duty for national service and to be an advocate for the basic research enterprise,” says Kaiser, who has been an NIGMS grantee since 1992. “For 50 years, NIGMS has laid the foundation for important medical advances, and I’m excited to build on these efforts.”
Kaiser’s research uses genetic, biochemical and structural biology methods to understand the basic mechanisms of protein folding and intracellular transport, molecular processes essential to normal cell function. His efforts have led to the identification of numerous genes and related mutations involved in these processes. Kaiser is particularly interested in determining how secreted and other proteins form disulfide bonds, which are important for protein folding and stability.
An initiative Kaiser says he’s particularly eager to join is the NIGMS’s effort to build and sustain a strong and diverse scientific workforce, as outlined in a recent NIGMS strategic plan for research training. “Fostering scientific careers and improving workforce diversity are critical to research progress, and NIGMS has really taken a lead in this arena,” says Kaiser, whose efforts more than tripled the number of underrepresented minority graduate students within the MIT biology department — from 5 to 18 percent — over six years.
Kaiser joined the MIT faculty in 1991 and became a full professor in 2002. He has chaired the biology department since 2004. He received an AB in biochemistry from Harvard University in 1980 and a PhD in biology from MIT in 1987, then did postdoctoral research at the University of California at Berkeley.
Kaiser is co-author of a widely used textbook, Molecular Cell Biology (5th and 6th editions). He has also organized Cold Spring Harbor scientific meetings, served on NIH review committees, and been associate editor of the journal Molecular Biology of the Cell as well as a member of the editorial board for the journal Traffic.
His honors include a Markey Scholarship (1990-96), a Searle Scholarship (1992-96), the Whitehead Career Development Professorship (1994-97) and election as an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow (2011). In 1999, he received a MacVicar Fellowship — MIT’s highest teaching honor — for the introductory genetics course he taught from 1992 to 2011.