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Stanford Launches New Interdisciplinary Institute for Chemical Biology

The Institute for Chemical Biology will draw students and faculty from across Stanford to drive innovation and discovery in biomedical science and train a new generation of "physician-scientist-engineers."

by Stanford University
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Stanford University announced the establishment of a new independent institute at the university on July 23 – the Institute for Chemical Biology. Formed in partnership with the schools of Medicine, Humanities and Sciences, and Engineering, and engaging with the schools of Law, Education, and Business, its mission is to strengthen the chemical foundations of biomedical science and to accelerate molecular discoveries that transform human health.

The institute will also provide an unparalleled training ground for the brightest young physicians, scientists and engineers who are motivated by the goal of reinventing the health care industry.

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"Decoding the mysteries of human biology in the language of chemistry is an important scientific frontier," said Chaitan Khosla, a professor of chemistry and of chemical engineering, and director of the new institute. "At the same time, by focusing on problems where innovative molecular engineering is crucial, the institute can accelerate the translation of advances in human biology into clinical practice."

Chemistry and biology at Stanford exist far beyond just the Chemistry and Biology departments, spanning Medicine, Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Applied Physics and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, for example. The Institute for Chemical Biology will expand on those existing relationships and recruit new faculty and bring together current faculty in Biology, Chemistry, Engineering and Medicine to address the biggest challenges at the chemistry/human biology interface that are beyond any individual department or school.

Its executive committee and advisory board are comprised of some of Stanford's most accomplished molecular scientists, engineers and clinicians, and its roster of more than 40 top-flight faculty fellows highlights the breadth and impact of ongoing chemical biology research within Stanford's schools of Humanities and Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Khosla played a key role in establishing the institute, and his expertise in the field made him a natural choice to be founding director, said Ann Arvin, vice provost and dean of research.

"Professor Chaitan Khosla is the ideal leader for this exciting and much-needed initiative in interdisciplinary research designed to re-invent approaches to drug discovery," Arvin said. "He brings both a deep knowledge of chemistry and chemical engineering and a profound concern for human health to this new effort.

"Chaitan's commitment to serve as the founding director is crucial for ensuring that new insights about human biology and health interventions will emerge from the research and education programs of the new Institute for Chemical Biology."

A main goal of the new institute will be developing new ways to use chemistry and engineering to understand human biology, and thereby fuel breakthrough investigations. In doing so, the institute hopes to endow students with the skills necessary to integrate concepts from biology, chemistry and engineering into biomedical research.

"Whereas many of the biomedical breakthroughs made in the 20th century were based on animal models, Homo sapiens is emerging as the most exciting biological system in the 21st century," Khosla said.

"We hope to educate a new generation of physician-scientist-engineers with the perspective to recognize opportunities that are overlooked by more narrowly trained researchers, and an ability to solve problems that are considered intractable today," said Khosla, who is also the Wells H. Rauser and Harold M. Petiprin Professor in the School of Engineering.

The institute has hired an academic staff scientist to leverage medicinal chemistry to add value to the research programs of Stanford biologists and clinicians. It has also put out a call for seed grant proposals in collaboration with SLAC. Additional initiatives are anticipated in the coming year.

For more information, visit the Institute for Chemical Biology website.