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Harvard Snags Wash U. Scientists

By Jessica E. Vascellaro, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard has poached a pair of top neuroscientists to bolster its feldgling Center on Systems Neuroscience—the interdisciplinary study of the organization and pathways of animal nervous systems.

Joshua R. Sanes and Jeffrey W. Litchman, close colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis, will commence work in Cambridge in July and begin teaching next year.

Sanes will serve as the center’s director and oversee the hiring of faculty, purchasing of equipment, and, in time, the planning of a new neuroscience curriculum.

“A big goal of the center is to bring new faculty here,” Tarr Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology Markus Meister said. “There are also plans for visiting appointments and ultimately more planning for the neuroscience curriculum.”

Incorporating research conducted throughout the University, the systems neuroscience center will integrate work done across Faculty of Arts and Sciences departments such as biology, psychology and physics.

Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby has allotted a total of 10 new faculty appointments to the center, which was first proposed by Meister and Pierce Professor of Psychology Ken Nakayama in 1999.

Since then, the center as been operating on a small scale by helping to make interdisciplinary appointments throughout the sciences and psychology.

Meister said that Sanes is the ideal candidate to lead the center given his significant contributions to molecular biology and his background in psychology.

Sanes has designed several lines of transgenic mice—mice with certain genetic mutations—whose genes can be identified by researchers by fluorescent tags.

“He is a champion innovator in the molecular genetics of mice and has a great track record of moving between fields,” Meister said.

Litchman has pioneered research techniques such as a new system for microscopically mapping neurons.

According to Harvard College Professor Richard M. Losick, numerous Harvard science departments will benefit from the method.

“He has allowed us to visualize many detailed aspects of the brain [which will] add a lot of depth to our program,” he said of Litchman.

Losick said that he was quite excited about working with his new colleagues and that Harvard was fortunate to have attracted the pair.

“It is an unusual opportunity for us to receive two stars who have interacted with each other,” he said. “They are both quite different, but both stars in their area.”

—Staff writer Jessica E. Vascellaro can be reached at

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