CRISPR pioneer named to inaugural chair created by Patricia and James Poitras '63, founders of MIT’s Poitras Center for Affective Disorders Research.
by Julie Pryor | January 26, 2017
The McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT has announced the appointment of Feng Zhang as the inaugural chairholder of the James and Patricia Poitras (1963) Professorship in Neuroscience. This new endowed professorship was made possible through a generous gift by Patricia and James Poitras ’63. The professorship is the second endowed chair Mr. and Mrs. Poitras have established at MIT, and extends their longtime support for mental health research.
“This newly created chair further enhances all that Jim and Pat have done for mental illness research at MIT,” said Robert Desimone, director of the McGovern Institute. “The Poitras Center for Affective Disorders Research has galvanized psychiatric research in multiple labs at MIT, and this new professorship will grant critical support to Professor Zhang’s genome engineering technologies, which continue to significantly advance mental illness research in labs worldwide.”
James and Patricia Poitras founded the Poitras Center for Affective Disorders Research at MIT in 2007. The Center has enabled dozens of advances in mental illness research, including the development of new disease models and novel technologies. Partnerships between the center and McLean Hospital have also resulted in improved methods for predicting and treating psychiatric disorders. In 2003, the Poitras Family established the James W. (1963) and Patricia T. Poitras Professor of Neuroscience in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, currently held by Guoping Feng.
“Providing support for high-risk, high-reward projects that have the potential to significantly impact individuals living with mental illness has been immensely rewarding to us,” Mr. and Mrs. Poitras say. “We are most interested in bringing basic scientific research to bear on new treatment options for psychiatric diseases. The work of Feng Zhang and his team is immeasurably promising to us and to the field of brain disorders research.”
Zhang joined MIT in 2011 as an investigator in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and an assistant professor in the departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biological Engineering. In 2013, he was named the W.M. Keck Career Development Professor in Biomedical Engineering, and in 2016 he was awarded tenure. In addition to his roles at MIT, Zhang is a core member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.
“I am deeply honored to be named the first James and Patricia Poitras Professor in Neuroscience,” says Zhang. “The Poitras Family and I share a passion for researching, treating, and eventually curing major mental illness. This chair is a terrific recognition of my group’s dedication to advancing genomic and molecular tools to research and one day solve psychiatric illness.”
Zhang earned his BA in chemistry and physics from Harvard College and his PhD in chemistry from Stanford University. Zhang has received numerous awards for his work in genome editing, especially the CRISPR gene editing system, and optogenetics. These include the Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize, the National Science Foundation’s Alan T. Waterman Award, the Jacob Heskel Gabbay Award in Biotechnology and Medicine, the Society for Neuroscience’s Young Investigator Award, the Okazaki Award, the Canada Gairdner International Award, and the Tang Prize. Zhang is a founder of Editas Medicine, a genome editing company founded by world leaders in the fields of genome editing, protein engineering, and molecular and structural biology.