From HMS: “The Future of Molecular Visualization”

Harvard University

Harvard University

Harvard Medical School

Harvard Medical School

January 18, 2017
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New cryo-electron microscopy center to transform biomedical imaging

Cryo-EM images can reveal new insights into how the molecular machines of a cell operate. Image: Maofu Liao.

Seeing a molecule in a microscope was once the stuff of science fiction. No longer.

With the creation of the Harvard Cryo-Electron Microscopy Center for Structural Biology in the Longwood Medical Area, Harvard University today launched a pivotal initiative in molecular visualization, which promises remarkable advances in scientists’ ability to see molecules directly.

Visualizing molecules at the level of atoms enables in-depth understanding of molecular mechanisms in both normal and disease states. Seeing subtle molecular details will fuel the development of next-generation precision therapeutics.

The new center emerged from a bold and visionary collaboration among partners from Harvard Medical School, the University’s Office of the Provost, Boston Children’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“This new center demonstrates how Harvard and its affiliated institutions can partner to establish leading-edge facilities and resources that accelerate biomedical discoveries,” said Alan Garber, provost of Harvard University.

Stephen Blacklow, the Gustavus Adolphus Pfeiffer Professor and chair of the Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at HMS, remarked, “The cooperation and resolve shown by all participants in pursuit of this effort has been truly impressive and foreshadows an outstanding future for molecular visualization at Harvard.”

George Q. Daley, dean of HMS, said, “We now have a microscope that allows us to see single molecules at the atomic level. This innovation will energize science in the hospitals and on the Quad, catalyzing translational research to see where it can bear on disease.”

“Cryo-electron microscopy is an important tool to reveal the structures of many building blocks essential to our understanding of human biology and the alterations that affect health and disease states,” added Barbara J. McNeil, former acting dean of HMS.

“We are extremely excited about the new HMS center and look forward over the coming years to an explosion in our understanding of cellular machines,” said Wade Harper, the Bert and Natalie Vallee Professor of Molecular Pathology and chair of the Department of Cell Biology at HMS.

Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) represents the latest frontier in imaging deployed by structural biologists.

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HMS campus

Established in 1782, Harvard Medical School began with a handful of students and a faculty of three. The first classes were held in Harvard Hall in Cambridge, long before the school’s iconic quadrangle was built in Boston. With each passing decade, the school’s faculty and trainees amassed knowledge and influence, shaping medicine in the United States and beyond. Some community members—and their accomplishments—have assumed the status of legend. We invite you to access the following resources to explore Harvard Medical School’s rich history.

Harvard University campus

Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.