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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University November 3, 2003 | Vol. 33 No. 10
Desiderio to Head SOM's Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences

Stephen Desiderio, professor of molecular biology and genetics at the School of Medicine, has been named director of the school's Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences. The institute was formed in December 2000 to unite the school's eight basic science departments and several hundred scientists.

Desiderio replaces Jeremy Berg, who is leaving Johns Hopkins to head the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes of Health.

"Steve is the right person at the right time to spearhead our phenomenal basic science group," said Edward D. Miller, dean of the medical school and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. "As this year's Nobel Prize in chemistry illustrates, basic science discoveries drive many of the advances in medicine that benefit us all. But they require an infrastructure that no longer can be provided by individual laboratories or departments. That's where the role of a coordinated institute — and its leader — steps in."

Desiderio, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, said, "I view the mission of the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences as facilitating fundamental research. Fundamental research will always be important because it's impossible to predict where scientific investigations may lead. But it's very exciting that advances in genetics, genomics and computer science are offering a direct avenue to using science to understand disease and eventually treat or cure it," he said. "The promise of understanding disease is finally being realized.

"The way science is evolving," he added, "the distance between what we call fundamental or basic science and more clinically oriented science has shrunk, partly because basic science has been able to study ever more complex systems, and clinical investigation has become more sophisticated. We have new tools at our disposal that allow us to look across an entire genome and manipulate the genetics of whole organisms."

At Johns Hopkins, for instance, major new efforts are under way to use proteomics — the study of people's proteins — and genomics — the study of people's genomes — to make headway against sudden cardiac death, cancer and psychiatric and neurological conditions.

Desiderio is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, unusual for a member of a basic science department. His own research focuses on the molecular mechanisms underlying development and function of the immune system.

Desiderio received a bachelor's degree in biology and Russian from Haverford College in 1974 and his doctorate and medical degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1981. He was a postdoctoral fellow at MIT until 1984, when he returned to Hopkins as an associate of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and an assistant professor of molecular biology and genetics. He was the 1980 recipient of the Michael A. Shanoff Award, the most prestigious of Hopkins' annual Young Investigators' Day awards for doctoral candidates.

The Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences links the departments of Biological Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry, Molecular Biology and Genetics, Molecular Cell Biology, Neuroscience, Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences, and Physiology on the East Baltimore medical campus.


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