Highlights from the 2010 Annual Report: Aviv Regev focuses on how cells are “wired”

Leah Eisenstadt, August 3rd, 2011 | Filed under
  • Regulatory circuits are critical in enabling cells to decide their fate,
    such as the complex network shown here in stem cells
    that give rise to the human body’s blood cells.

Cells use a complex network of connections to make a constant array of decisions about their surrounding environment: Is it time to grow? Is it time to change into a different type of cell? When a cellular component or connection is missing or defective, disease takes hold.

The Human Genome Project, which was proposed twenty-five years ago, yielded great riches in terms of systematically understanding cellular components — genes and proteins. Aviv Regev, a Broad core faculty member and newly tenured associate professor of biology at MIT, and her colleagues are now writing an important second chapter: they are making a systematic effort to define the cellular circuits that underlie human health.

Aviv is a computational biologist who joined the Broad Institute in 2006, and like many other Broad researchers, she holds a faculty appointment at one of the Broad’s partner institutes. The Broad is a bridge between academic institutions, hospitals, and industry partners, combining the strengths of each into a powerful vehicle for collaborative research. The strong academic ties of members like Aviv are key to the institute’s success.

At the Broad, Aviv devotes much of her research to understanding just how complex cellular networks work — or don’t. Because cells play such an important role in biology, her work touches nearly every aspect of research at the institute.

Aviv and her colleagues have invented new laboratory methods to delve into the function of cellular circuits for numerous cell types; they have discovered scores of circuits that regulate different types of blood cells and immune cells. Working with the Broad’s RNA interference (RNAi) Platform, Aviv and her colleagues use molecular methods to eliminate many components in a cellular circuit in parallel to analyze how each component affects the cell’s function.

Aviv Regev

Aviv Regev

“In disease, some pieces of our circuits break down,” she says. “Maybe a component is missing. Maybe you have a wire that shouldn’t be connected. If you can figure out which part is wrong, then you may be able to come in and fix it.”

In addition to the RNAi Platform, Aviv and her group collaborate with a number of the Broad’s platforms, programs, and associate members. Understanding how different genetic variations interact with cellular circuits can provide important context that will allow a deeper understanding of the disease process, and may ultimately lead to new therapies.

“One of the great strengths here is the informal network. People here like rallying around good problems,” she says. “It changes everything.”

In the new 2010 Broad Annual Report, we feature the work of Aviv and other Broad researchers, highlighting the achievements of our first year as a 501(c)3 institution and revealing new avenues of inquiry that our scientists will soon venture down.

Please visit the Annual Report online to learn more about the fascinating advances being made by Aviv and other Broad researchers.