K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Center for Molecular Therapeutics in Neuroscience

More than one million Americans are diagnosed with a chronic brain disorder each year, yet treatments for most complex brain disorders are inadequate or even nonexistent. The K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Center for Molecular Therapeutics in Neuroscience aims to change how we treat brain disorders by developing innovative molecular tools that target dysfunctional genetic, molecular, and anatomical pathways.

The center was established at the McGovern Institute in 2020 through a $28M gift from philanthropist Lisa Yang and MIT alumnus Hock Tan ’75 and is the second research center established by Yang and Tan at MIT.

Research at the center will initially focus on three major lines of investigation: genetic engineering using CRISPR tools, delivery of genetic and molecular cargo across the blood-brain barrier, and the translation of basic research into the clinical setting. The center will serve as a hub for researchers with backgrounds ranging from biological engineering and genetics to computer science and medicine.

Research Goals

Genetic Engineering

Feng Zhang is leading a broad effort from the Yang-Tan Center to expand and improve the CRISPR gene editing platform to target genes associated with complex brain disorders. Working closely with Zhang, Guoping Feng is developing advanced primate models and novel therapeutic approaches including RNA and DNA engineering for psychiatric and developmental disorders.

New Delivery Methods

The CRISPR gene editing platform holds great potential in both targeting and fixing errant genes associated with brain disorders. But the safe and effective delivery of this genetic cargo to the brain remains a challenge. Researchers within the new Yang-Tan Center will improve and fine-tune CRISPR gene therapies and develop innovative ways of delivering gene therapy cargo into brain tissue. Guoping Feng is developing so-called “mini-genes,” small versions of genes that can be easily packaged and used to replace dysfunctional genes. His team is also developing new delivery methods, adeno-associated virus-inspired vectors, that are compatible with the human brain.

New Tools

Polina Anikeeva works at the intersection of materials science, electronics, and neurobiology to design and fabricate optoelectronic and magnetic approaches to treat disorders of the nervous system. Ed Boyden is designing proteins that can cross the blood-brain barrier using primate cell models with the goal of moving these new molecular strategies into clinical trials in humans.