2014 McGovern Institute Spring Symposium


DATE: Friday May 2, 2014
TIME: 8:30am – 5:15pm
LOCATION: MIT Bldg 46-3002 (Singleton Auditorium)
QUESTIONS? Laura Dargus | ldargus@mit.edu | 617.715.5396

Registration is now closed. Selected talks from the symposium may be viewed in our video gallery.





8:30 am

9:00 am – 9:15 am
Robert Desimone and Feng Zhang, McGovern Institute
Welcoming Remarks

Session I

Chair: Alan Jasanoff, McGovern Institute

9:15 am – 9:55 am

Alice Ting (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Spatially-resolved proteomic mapping of living cells using engineered peroxidase reporters

9:55 am – 10:35 am
Alex Shalek (Harvard University)
Using single cell transcriptomics to explore cellular identity and uncover drivers of cellular behaviors
watch video

10:35 am – 10:50 am

10:50 am – 11:30 am
Joseph Ecker (The Salk Institute)
Global epigenomic reconfiguration during mammalian brain development

11:30 am – 12:10 pm
Je Hyuk Lee (Harvard Medical School)
Highly multiplexed subcellular RNA sequencing in situ
watch video

12:10 pm – 1:00 pm

Session II

Chair: Gloria Choi, McGovern Institute

1:00 pm – 1:40 pm
Connie Cepko (Harvard University)
GFP as a regulator of biological activities
watch video

1:40 pm – 2:20 pm
Kwanghun Chung (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
CLARITY and beyond: Towards fully-integrated multi-dimensional investigation of the brain

2:20 pm – 3:00 pm
Jeff Lichtman (Harvard University)
watch video

3:00 pm – 3:15 pm

Session III

Chair: Ed Boyden, McGovern Institute

3:15 pm – 3:55 pm
Michael Lin (Stanford University)
GFP as an optogenetic Swiss Army knife: new applications in voltage sensing, memory visualization, and optical control of protein activity
watch video

3:55 pm – 4:35 pm
Loren Looger (HHMI, Janelia Farm)
New tools for imaging and controlling neurons in vivo

4:35 pm – 5:15 pm
Charles Lieber (Harvard University)
Nanoelectronics meets neuroscience: Novel tools for mapping to electronic therapeutics

5:15 pm – 6:15 pm
Reception in atrium



MIT Colloquium on the Brain and Cognition

SPEAKER: Xiaoqin Wang, PhD
AFFILIATION: Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Director of Tsinghua-Johns Hopkins Joint Center for Biomedical Engineering Research
DATE + TIME: Thursday, April 10, 2014 @ 4:00 PM
LOCATION: MIT Bldg 46-3002 (Singleton Auditorium)
HOST: Guoping Feng, McGovern Institute

Properly chosen animal models are pivotal in understanding brain mechanisms for behaviors. Research on the primate auditory system has been hampered for the lack of appropriate animal models with adequate vocal behaviors in laboratory conditions. We have developed a new model system to study neural basis of audition and vocal communication using the common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus), a highly vocal New World primate species. Marmosets have a rich repertoire of communication calls and remain highly vocal in captivity. Anatomically, marmosets have a smooth brain that provides easy access to many regions of the cerebral cortex for electrophysiological and optical recordings. They are easily bred and have a high reproductive rate, making it feasible to conduct developmental and transgenic studies. Using this unique model system, we have identified non-linear transformations of time-varying signals in auditory cortex and revealed harmonic organizations of this cortical region. We also showed that cortical representations of self-produced vocalizations are shaped by auditory feedback and vocal control signals during vocal communication. These findings have important implications for understanding how the brain processes speech and music and how it operates during speaking. They also demonstrate the potential of this non-human primate species in studying the neural basis of social interactions.

Patrick J. McGovern, 1937-2014

Patrick McGovern was born in 1937 in Queens, New York, and grew up in New York and Philadelphia. He became interested in the brain as a teenager, when he came across a book titled “Giant Brains, or Machines that Think” in the Philadelphia public library. As he recalled in an interview some 50 years later, “It was the first book that talked about computers and their role as an amplifier of the human mind,” and it sparked a lifelong interest in science and technology. In 1955 Pat was admitted to MIT, where he majored in biophysics. He studied neurophysiology, and recalls using a glass electrode to study electrical activity in tadpoles. He also became involved in student newspapers, and after graduating from MIT in the class of 1959, he was hired as an assistant editor for a new magazine, “Computers and Automation,” founded by Ed Berkeley, the author of the book that had so intrigued him ten years earlier.

After four years as a magazine editor, Pat left to found his own company, now known as International Data Group (IDG), which under his leadership grew to become the world’s foremost publisher of computer-related news, information and research. IDG today is a multi-billion-dollar business, with 2013 revenues of over $3.5 billion. The story of Pat’s career at IDG has been often told, and his business accomplishments have been recognized with many honors, including lifetime achievement awards from American Business Media and from the Magazine Publishers of America. Yet despite his success and his imposing physical presence, Pat retained a modest demeanor and never cultivated the trappings of great wealth. Instead, he focused his energies on leadership of the company (of which he remained chairman until the time of his death) and increasingly in his later years, on his philanthropic priorities.

His career and fortune were made in computer technology, but never lost sight of his early dream to understand the brain, which he often described as the world’s most complex computer. When he studied neurophysiology at MIT in the 1950s, the tools were not adequate to the enormous challenge of understanding how the human brain works, but by the 1990s, technological progress had been so dramatic that the field had been transformed almost beyond recognition. A scientific understanding of the brain, while still a daunting challenge, was no longer within the realm of science fiction, but was a real prospect for the future.

Pat’s dream was shared by his wife Lore Harp McGovern, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur whose interests included healthcare, education and hi-tech. In the late 1990s they decided that the time was right to establish a new institute for brain research, and after consultations with many leading scientists and universities, they decided that the new institute would be at MIT.

Pat and Lore had both been longstanding MIT supporters; Pat was a member of the MIT Corporation, and Lore was chair of the Board of Associates at the affiliated Whitehead Institute. But they always emphasized that their choice of MIT was not simply a matter of loyalty to Pat’s alma mater. They felt that MIT was the right choice because of its alignment with their vision of a multidisciplinary, outward-looking institute that would engage the widest possible range of scientific talents in support of its mission to understand the brain. One goal was to understand the basis of brain disorders and to lay the foundation for new treatments for conditions such as psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases – a goal that Pat and Lore considered vitally important, given the enormous suffering and economic costs that are inflicted by these disorders. But their vision was not confined to disease research; they also understood the brain to be the source of our humanity, our creative achievements and our conflicts, and they saw the possibility that understanding these things in scientific terms could transform the world for the better.

The McGovern Institute for Brain Research was formally established in 2000, with a commitment of $350 million from Pat and Lore, one of the largest philanthropic gifts in the history of higher education. Nobel laureate and Institute Professor Phillip A. Sharp, was named founding director, and Robert Desimone succeeded Sharp as director in 2004. In the fall of 2005, the McGovern Institute moved into spacious facilities in MIT’s Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex, one of the most distinctive landmarks on the MIT campus and among the largest neuroscience research buildings in the world.

The McGovern Institute has continued to thrive since it moved to its new home, expanding in size and scope as it has hired new faculty and built new laboratories. Most importantly, it has produced a steady stream of discoveries about the working of the brain, in areas ranging from the genetic control of brain development to the neural basis of human thought and emotion. This progress was deeply gratifying to Pat and Lore, who visited regularly to attend the institute’s board meetings and scientific events, mingling with faculty and researchers and engaging deeply in discussions of their new findings. Throughout his life, Pat retained an extraordinary ability to absorb new information, and researchers were frequently impressed at his ability to cite detailed facts and figures about the brain. He was a tireless advocate for the institute and its mission, hosting many visits and tours, and inspiring others to follow his philanthropic example. He was, and Lore remains, an enormous source of inspiration and encouragement to the researchers at the institute.

Throughout Pat’s business career, his vision was global, and he took great pride in the fact that IDG was one of the first Western companies to establish a business presence in China after the end of the Cultural Revolution. It is thus fitting that Pat and Lore’s philanthropic vision also extended to China; since 2011, three new IDG/McGovern Institutes have been established in Beijing, at Tsinghua University, Peking (“Beida”) University and Beijing Normal University.

Like the McGovern Institute at MIT, the new institutes in China are focused on fundamental research in neuroscience as well as translational work on disease applications. Pat always saw brain disorders as global problems that required global solutions, and one of his greatest hopes was that the new institutes would help accelerate the international cooperation that he saw as essential to the ultimate goal of understanding the human brain in health and disease.

Pat’s wife Lore has been a full partner throughout the McGovern Institute’s 14-year history, serving on the governing board of the institute along with Pat and his daughter Elizabeth McGovern. All of us at the institute offer our deepest condolences to Lore, to their four children, and to all of Pat’s family members and friends. He will be greatly missed.

See below for a photo gallery of Pat McGovern.

Photos: Justin Knight

A Personal Message from Lore Harp McGovern

Charles M. Vest’s death came much too early. I miss this man terribly, his kindness, his intelligence, his fairness and most of all his simple humanity. Chuck was President of MIT when we started our discussion about the possibility of the McGovern Institute to be located at MIT. He was enthusiastic, if not ecstatic, but exercised reserve and a deep felt appreciation for what this would mean for neuroscience at MIT.

Our lengthy discussions and negotiations, some not so easy, were always fair with a win-win in mind, and his humorous use of narratives was a tactic to try and sway you without you noticing. I remember the time we met so I could listen to his rationale about postponing the start of building the MIBR. Of course we were opposed to that, and so I was invited by Chuck to a private lunch with the model of the building prominently displayed in view of our table. As in chess, where you try to corner the queen, Chuck suggested that we trade places, thereby putting the model in a less favorable light, all in the hope he could meet his objective. Oh Chuck! We started and finished pretty much on schedule. So many memories, bear hugs and laughter. I remember an MIT dinner where attendees were leaving, but you and I kept talking, the room cleared out, tables were folded up, the crew swept the floor around us sitting on our chairs, ignoring all. The topic of discussion still centered around the building. And then there always will be the story of French fries at Marché in Menlo Park! Chuck was passing the baton and visited many people across the country to say thank you. I had the pleasure to have dinner with him. Chuck was a runner and in great shape because he was mindful of what he ate; however, both of us ordered that occasional steak and unbeknown to us it was accompanied by two enormous pointed parchment bags in a gracious holder filled with (alas, delicious) French fries! We first looked at them in disdain, but one after the other they disappeared until they were gone. We laughed and tried to excuse away the consumption of all those French fries, and with a huge smile on your face “French fries” became your greeting to the bewilderment of those around us. You also shared private dreams post presidency about being interested in an ambassadorship, but that that would be not be feasible for different reasons. I wish we could have many more of our conversations, but instead I wish you goodbye with one last bear hug!

Be well in the place souls go to rest, my friend, and know that you were respected for all the right reasons, but loved by many and by me because you were very simply, Chuck!

Editas Medicine to develop new class of genome editing therapeutics

Editas Medicine, a transformative genome editing company, today announced it has secured a $43 million Series A financing led by Flagship Ventures, Polaris Partners and Third Rock Ventures with participation from Partners Innovation Fund. Following an explosion of high profile publications on CRISPR/Cas9 and TALENs, genome editing has emerged as one of the most exciting new areas of scientific research. These recent advances have made it possible to modify, in a targeted way, almost any gene in the human body with the ability to directly turn on, turn off or edit disease-causing genes. Editas’ mission is to translate its genome editing technology into a novel class of human therapeutics that enable precise and corrective molecular modification to treat the underlying cause of a broad range of diseases at the genetic level.

“Editas is exclusively positioned to leverage the very latest in genome editing to develop life-changing medicines for patients,” said Kevin Bitterman, Ph.D., interim president, Editas Medicine and principal, Polaris Partners. “Our suite of foundational intellectual property, combined with the proprietary know-how of our founding team and our financial resources, will enable us to rapidly translate these groundbreaking discoveries into important medicines.”

Leading Foundational Science & Team

The company’s five founders have published much of the foundational work that has elevated genome editing technology to a level where it can now be optimized and developed for therapeutic use. Feng Zhang, Ph.D., core member of the Broad Institute, Investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and joint assistant professor in the Departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biological Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; George Church, Ph.D., founding core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and Robert Winthrop professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School; and Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology at the University of California, Berkeley, are eminent academic leaders who described and invented key elements of the CRISPR/Cas technology. Keith Joung, M.D., Ph.D., associate chief of pathology for research and associate pathologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, is a pioneer in the development and translation of genome editing technologies. David Liu, Ph.D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University, is a renowned protein evolution and engineering biologist.

The company has generated substantial patent filings and has access to intellectual property covering foundational genome editing technologies, as well as essential advancements and enablements that will uniquely allow the company to translate early findings into viable human therapeutic products.

Dr. Zhang commented, “Advances in genome editing have opened the door for an entirely new and promising approach to treating disease by correcting causative errors directly in a patient’s genome. Editas is optimizing and refining existing genome editing technology to create a versatile platform for the development of potential human therapeutics.”

Genome Editing

CRISPR (clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)/Cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9) and TALENs (transcription activator-like effector nucleases) comprise novel gene editing methods that overcome the challenges associated with previous technologies. Early published research on CRISPR/Cas9, coupled with a growing body of work on TALENs, suggests the potential to pursue therapeutic indications that have previously been intractable to traditional gene therapy, gene knock-down or other genome modification techniques. The CRISPR/Cas9 system, the most recent and exciting approach to emerge, acts by a mechanism in which the Cas9 protein binds to specific RNA molecules. The RNA molecules then guide the Cas9 complex to the exact location in the genome that requires repair. CRISPR/Cas9 uniquely enables highly efficient knock-out, knock-down or selective editing of defective genes in the context of their natural promoters, unlocking the ability to treat the root cause of a broad range of diseases.

“Editas is poised to bring genome editing to fruition as a new therapeutic modality, essentially debugging errors in the human software that cause disease,” said Alexis Borisy, director, Editas Medicine and partner, Third Rock Ventures. “Our CRISPR/Cas9 technology is favorably differentiated due to its ability to pursue almost the entire genome, allowing broad therapeutic application and the targeting of defective genes in a highly specific, selective and efficient manner.”

Management and Board

In collaboration with its founders, Editas has assembled a leadership team and board of directors comprised of experienced investors and industry veterans with proven track records for building exceptional life sciences companies. In addition to Dr. Bitterman, the Editas leadership team includes Alexandra Glucksmann, Ph.D., interim chief operating officer and former founding employee and SVP of research and development at Cerulean Pharma; and Lou Tartaglia, Ph.D., interim chief scientific officer and partner, Third Rock Ventures.

The board of directors is composed of leaders from the Editas syndicate including Mr. Borisy; Douglas Cole, M.D., general partner, Flagship Ventures; and Terry McGuire, co-founder and general partner, Polaris Partners.

“The gene editing approaches on which Editas is based represent some of the most exciting and promising scientific breakthroughs in recent years, making it possible, for the first time, to correct the genomic defects responsible for a broad range of diseases,” said Dr. Cole. “The Editas syndicate has come together as a collaborative team dedicated to supporting and advancing the company’s revolutionary approach to improve patients’ lives. Our funds’ collective strength provides Editas the resources to translate this groundbreaking work into important therapeutics.”

About Flagship Ventures

Realizing entrepreneurial innovation is the mission of Flagship Ventures. The firm operates through two synergistic units: VentureLabs™ which invents and launches transformative companies, and Venture Capital, which finances and develops innovative, early-stage companies. Founded in 2000, and based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Flagship Ventures manages over $900 million in capital. The Flagship team is active in three principal business sectors: therapeutics, health technologies and sustainability/clean technology. For more information, please visit www.flagshipventures.com.

About Polaris Partners

Founded in 1996, Polaris Partners has more than $3.5 billion in capital under management which we invest into a diverse portfolio of technology and healthcare companies throughout their lifecycles. From the earliest startup phases through the growth equity stages, Polaris Partners takes minority and majority positions alongside outstanding management teams to help grow industry leading companies like Ascend, Avila, Ironwood, Receptos, LogMeIn and Akamai. With offices in Boston, San Francisco and Dublin, Polaris partners with an unparalleled network of repeat CEOs, entrepreneurs, top scientists and emerging innovators who are positioned to make a significant impact in their fields and vastly improve the way in which we all live and work. The result: Hundreds of growing companies, thousands of jobs generated, and billions of dollars of value created. For more information, visit: www.polarispartners.com.

About Third Rock Ventures

Third Rock Ventures is a leading healthcare venture firm focused on investing and launching companies that make a difference in people’s lives. The Third Rock team has a unique vision for ideating and building transformative healthcare companies. Working closely with our strategic partners and entrepreneurs, Third Rock has an extensive track record for managing the value creation path to deliver exceptional performance. For more information, please visit the firm’s website at www.thirdrockventures.com.

About Partners Innovation Fund

The Partners Innovation Fund is the strategic venture fund for Partners HealthCare, founded by the Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The mission of the fund is to provide the necessary support to commercialize innovations in medical informatics, diagnostics, drugs and devices that emerge from the Partners HealthCare investigator community.

Brains on Trial: Neuroscience and the Law

What if we could peer into the brain to determine guilt or innocence? Could advances in neuroscience help reform our criminal justice system?

We invite you to join the discussion with a distinguished group of legal and neuroscience experts who will debate these and related questions on Tuesday, September 17th. Alan Alda will moderate the panel of experts, show clips from his 2-part PBS special, “Brains on Trial,” and engage the audience in a Q&A session. We hope you will join us!






DATE: Tuesday September 17, 2013
TIME: 6:00 – 8:30
LOCATION: McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT (MIT Bldg 46, Third Floor Atrium)
QUESTIONS? brainsontrial@mit.edu or 617.324.2077



Alan AldaAlan Alda, a seven-time Emmy Award–winner, played Hawkeye Pierce on the classic television series, M*A*S*H, and appeared in continuing roles on ER, The West Wing, and 30 Rock. His long-time interest in science and in promoting a greater public understanding of science led to his hosting the award-winning PBS series Scientific American Frontiers for eleven years, on which he interviewed hundreds of scientists from around the world. He has 33 Emmy nominations as actor, writer, and director, and is a Television Hall of Fame inductee. He has also appeared on the Broadway stage, where he received three Tony nominations.


Robert DesimoneRobert Desimone is director of the McGovern Institute and the Doris and Don Berkey Professor in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. He served as network co-director of the Macarthur Law and Neuroscience Project from 2008-2010. Prior to joining the McGovern Institute in 2004, he was director of the Intramural Research Program at the National Institutes of Mental Health. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a recipient of numerous awards, including the Troland Prize of the National Academy of Sciences.

Joshua GreeneJoshua D. Greene is the John and Ruth Hazel Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He is an experimental psychologist, neuroscientist, and philosopher. He studies the psychology and neuroscience of morality, focusing on the interplay between emotion and reasoning in moral decision-making. In 2012 he was awarded the Stanton Prize by the Society for Philosophy and Psychology. He is the author of the forthcoming book Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them.

Nancy KanwisherNancy Kanwisher is the Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and a founding member of the McGovern Institute. She joined the MIT faculty in 1997, and prior to that was a faculty member at UCLA and Harvard University. In 1999, she received the National Academy of Sciences Troland Research Award. The Kanwisher lab uses brain imaging to study the functional organization of the human brain.


Luna Bea 2012.jpgBea Luna is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She is the director of the Laboratory of Neurocognitive Development, where she leads projects investigating the brain basis of typical and abnormal adolescent development of voluntary behaviors and motivation.



Stephen J. MorseStephen J. Morse is the Ferdinand Wakeman Hubbell Professor of Law, Professor of Psychology and Law in Psychiatry, and Associate Director of the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a veteran in the fields of psychology and law and was instrumental in building the MacArthur Law and Neuroscience Project. Being both a scientist and a legal expert, he understands and writes extensively on the relevance of neuroscience to law. He also serves as a member of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and neuroscience.

This event is based on a two-part PBS special, “Brains on Trial with Alan Alda,” scheduled for broadcast on September 11 and 18 at 10PM. Watch the preview below:

Brains on Trial with Alan Alda takes a fictitious crime – a convenience store robbery that goes horribly wrong – and builds from it a gripping courtroom drama. As the trial unfolds it takes us into the brains of the major participants – defendant, witnesses, jurors, judge – while Alan Alda visits the laboratories of some dozen neuroscientists exploring how brains work when they become entangled with the law. The research he discovers poses the controversial question: How does our rapidly expanding ability to peer into people’s minds and decode their thoughts and feelings affect trials like the one we are watching in the future? And should it?