Stowers Institute recruits top scientists in developmental and regenerative biology

Jun 20 2011

KANSAS CITY, MO—Renowned developmental biologist Tatjana Piotrowski, Ph.D., and trailblazing regeneration expert Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, Ph.D., joined the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, the Institute announced today.

"We are pleased to welcome these incredibly gifted scientists to the Stowers Institute," said David Chao, president and CEO of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research. "They embody the pioneering and risk-taking spirit that drives new scientific discoveries. Their research will both strengthen and diversify our efforts in key research areas at the Institute.”

“Tatjana and Alejandro are outstanding additions to our faculty, who will add new dimension and capacity to our existing developmental biology programs,” said Robb Krumlauf. “We are truly excited to bring their expertise to the work already under way at the Stowers Institute.”

Associate investigator Piotrowski joined the Stowers Institute from the University of Utah’s School of Medicine, where she was an associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy. Piotrowski uses zebrafish as a model system to reveal new insights into crucial early developmental processes such as collective cell migration, cell type specification and stem cell biology.

Piotrowski’s work on the development of hair cells, which detect sound and motion in the inner ear of vertebrates, as well as water movement along the lateral line in fish, revealed new migratory patterns as well as a previously unappreciated role for glia in the regulation of hair cell precursor proliferation and functional maturation. Her studies also identified several genes required for the coordinated migration of groups of cells, a process that is still poorly understood.

At Stowers, Piotrowski will continue to use zebrafish to dissect the molecular programs governing the migration and differentiation of hair cell precursors. Since fish hair cells—in contrast to hair cells in the inner ear of vertebrates—regenerate readily following hair cell death, Piotrowski will use the same model system to gain a better understanding of the molecular and cellular basis of hair cell regeneration.

“I am truly excited about coming to the Stowers Institute,” said Piotrowski. “My research on the mechanisms underlying sensory organ development and regeneration will benefit tremendously from the cutting-edge technology and unique resources available at the Institute.”

Piotrowski’s husband, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Sánchez Alvarado, also hails from the University of Utah, where he held the H.A & Edna Benning Professorship of Neurobiology and Anatomy. One of the world’s leading authorities on regeneration, investigator Sánchez Alvarado transformed the flatworm Schmidtea mediterranea—famous for its capacity to regrow complete individuals from minuscule body parts—from an unassuming, freshwater-dwelling oddity into a powerful new model system for the study of regeneration.

Sánchez Alvarado identified and characterized dozens of genes and genetic programs that drive regeneration and ensure the anatomical and functional integration of newly made parts into older, pre-existing tissues. He showed that adult somatic stem cells are the only proliferating cell type participating in regeneration and generate the approximately 40 different cell types found in an adult flatworm.

“I am thrilled to be here,” said Sánchez Alvarado. “Scientifically, there’s no better place to be. This is not only an outstanding opportunity to advance my laboratory’s planarian research program in particular, but also regeneration biology as a whole. I am planning to take full advantage of the unique environment the Institute has to offer.”

Piotrowski received her master’s degree from the University of Tübingen, Germany, and her doctorate degree from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen.

Born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, Sánchez Alvarado received a B.S. in molecular biology and chemistry from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and a Ph.D. in pharmacology and cell biophysics from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Stowers Institute for Medical Research is a non-profit, basic biomedical research organization dedicated to improving human health by studying the fundamental processes of life. Jim Stowers, founder of American Century Investments, and his wife Virginia opened the Institute in 2000. Since then, the Institute has spent over a half billion dollars in pursuit of its mission.

Currently the Institute is home to nearly 500 researchers and support personnel; over 20 independent research programs; and more than a dozen technology development and core facilities. Learn more about the Institute at http://www.stowers.org. Learn more about American Century Investments at http://www.americancentury.com.