Scientists are launching an ambitious effort to diagram how the human genome controls cells by tracing the chemical pathways it uses to send instructions zinging through them like balls in a pinball machine.
The Broad Institute, a biomedical research juggernaut in Cambridge that is affiliated with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, announced today a $32.5 million gift from the Klarman Family Foundation to open a “Cell Observatory.” The center will allow researchers from Boston and around the world to investigate the molecular contents – not just the genes, but also the many chemicals that interact with them – of different human cell types, using large-scale techniques available only in advanced labs.
“When people want to look at the stars, they reserve time in observatories to do their measurements and analyze the data,” said Aviv Regev, the project’s lead researcher. “There are many types of cells out there, and you need expertise to observe and analyze them, too. This would be a place where instead of looking at constellations in the sky, people could look at constellations in the cells.”
Seth Klarman, the Boston hedge fund manager whose foundation is underwriting the project’s first phase, is known for making careful bets and winning them big. (Though little-known to the general public, he is a star among financial analysts, who buy copies of his lone, out-of-print book for thousands of dollars on Amazon.) His family’s foundation, chaired by his wife Beth, has supported biomedical science before. It funds one of the nation’s largest centers for research on eating disorders at McLean Hospital in Belmont. Klarman also sits alongside Nobel laureates on the Broad Institute’s board.