Press Release March 11, 2021

Three new endowed chairs to lead Alzheimer’s, addiction, cancer, and computational biology research

Endowed Chairs

L-R: Gregory Carter, Ph.D., Elissa Chesler, Ph.D. and Roel Verhaak, Ph.D.

The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) has appointed three faculty members to endowed chairs in order to further research into Alzheimer’s disease, addiction, cancer and computational biology.

Gregory Carter, Ph.D.Develops computational strategies using genetic data to understand complex genetic systems involving multiple genes and environmental factors.Gregory Carter, Ph.D. , has been appointed to The Bernard and Lusia Milch Endowed Chair and Elissa Chesler, Ph.D.Researches the genetics underlying behavior and identifies the biological basis for relationships among behavioral traits.Elissa Chesler, Ph.D. , has been appointed to The Ann Watson Symington Chair in Addiction Research, two newly established endowed chairs at the Laboratory. Roel Verhaak, Ph.D.Brain tumors, sequencing, computational biology.Roel Verhaak, Ph.D. has been appointed to The Florine Deschenes Roux Chair for Genomics and Computational Biology.

“We are thrilled to appoint these exceptional scientists to endowed chair positions, and grateful to our donors for their generosity in establishing these chairs,” said  Edison Liu, M.D.Conducts research focused on the functional genomics of breast cancer through an exploration of the entire genomic space.Edison T. Liu, M.D. , president and CEO of the Laboratory. “Greg, Elissa and Roel are leading researchers in their fields and will allow us to make invaluable strides in Alzheimer’s disease, addiction and cancer research.”

In addition to providing an important source of funding for research, named endowed chairs are a vital tool in enabling JAX to attract, retain and support outstanding scientists.

The Bernard and Lusia Milch Endowed Chair

JAX has received $1.5 million from Lusia Milch, which has been matched with an additional $1.5 million from JAX, to establish The Bernard and Lusia Milch Endowed Chair. The chair will be held by associate professor and computational biologist Gregory Carter, Ph.D., who uses innovative computational strategies to understand complex genetic systems involving multiple genes and environmental factors.Carter focuses on the fundamental biology of Alzheimer's disease and seeks to model its complexity, using big data to create a complete picture of the disease.

Contemporary technologies such as high-throughput genome sequencing enable the measurement of biological systems with unprecedented scale, power and precision. Researchers now have the opportunity to decipher the genetics that underlie normal human function and disease, but doing so demands working with the massive amounts of data being produced. The overall goal of Carter’s laboratory is to develop computational strategies that use these data to understand and model complex genetic systems, in which multiple genes and environmental factors combine to affect biological traits, including disease. Of particular note, Carter works as a principal investigator for the National Institute on Aging’s Model Organism Development and Evaluation for Late-onset AD ( Alzheimer's Disease Precision Models CenterAlzheimer’s disease (AD) is a major cause of dementia, disability and death in the elderly. Despite recent advances in our understanding of basic biological mechanisms underlying AD, we do not yet know how to prevent AD or have an approved disease modifying intervention.MODEL-AD ) and Target Enablement to Accelerate therapy Development for Alzheimer’s Disease ( The Target Enablement to Accelerate Therapy Development for Alzheimer’s Disease (TREAT-AD) ProgramThe goal of the NIA-funded TREAT-AD consortium (www.treatad.org) is to translate molecular signatures of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease into new treatments. TREAT-AD ) research centers, integrating human Alzheimer’s disease patient data and mouse-based research data to uncover the mechanisms of neurodegeneration and disease and identify therapeutic targets.

“Greg is passionate about tackling one of biology’s most challenging tasks: creating digital platforms that fully integrate human and mouse biological data into a unique framework. I am so pleased that Greg is being recognized for his expertise in computational biology and lasting contributions to research,” said Nadia Rosenthal, Ph.D., F.Med.SciGlobal leader in the use of targeted mutagenesis in mice to investigate muscle development, disease and repair.Nadia Rosenthal, Ph.D. , FMedSci, FAAHMS, scientific director and professor at  MaineJAX boasts three locations in Maine. Researchers in Bar Harbor investigate the genetic causes of human disease by using the mouse as a model. Our Ellsworth campus provides the global biomedical research community with JAX® Mice at the highest health status. Maine Cancer Genomics Initiative in Augusta brings cutting-edge cancer care to patients across Maine. The Jackson Laboratory for Mammalian Genetics . “This newly endowed chair will enable Greg to accelerate his research interrogating disease across multiple dimensions to empower researchers around the globe.”

The Ann Watson Symington Chair in Addiction Research

Additionally, the Watson family, through the Arthur K. Watson Charitable Trust, have pledged $1.5 million, which will also be matched by JAX, to establish The Ann Watson Symington Chair in Addiction Research.

JAX professor Elissa Chesler, Ph.D. has been appointed as the first chairholder. Chesler is an interdisciplinary scientist developing integrative genetics and genomics methods for the challenges of alcohol and substance use.   The Chesler Lab Researches the genetics underlying behavior and identifies relationships among behavioral traits.The Chesler lab combines quantitative genetics, bioinformatics and behavioral science to understand and identify the biological basis for the relationships among behavioral traits within and across species. Chesler established large behavioral phenotyping facilities so that she can study multiple behaviors in multiple populations of mice, and then perform genetic, genomic, and ultimately neurobiological characterization of these populations. This work allowed her to bring other addiction behavioral scientists to work together with investigators at JAX, resulting in the creation of the Center for Systems Neurogenetics of AddictionThe Center for Systems Neurogenetics of Addiction (CSNA) aims to identify the biological relationships between the stages and patterns of cocaine addiction and behaviors that predict drug abuse.Center for Systems Neurogenetics of Addiction . The Center simultaneously characterizes multiple aspects of addiction-related behavior, like impulsivity, drug response, and the brain's adaptation to that repeated drug exposure.

“Elissa’s longstanding focus on the underlying genetics guiding the biology of behavioral traits and the relationships between them has taken her to the forefront of the systems genetics field. She has developed unique genetic, genomic and informatics approaches to the problem of behavioral complexity, applied specifically to individuals’ vulnerability to addiction. Her commitment to her research, her colleagues and the addiction community is unmatched,” said Rosenthal. “I am excited to see how Elissa will utilize her newly endowed chair to deepen JAX’s impact on developing and improving mental health care and therapies.”

The Florine Deschenes Roux Chair for Genomics and Computational Biology

Professor and associate director of computational biology Roel Verhaak, Ph.D., has been appointed to The Florine Deschenes Roux Chair for Genomics and Computational Biology.

Verhaak’s focus is glioblastoma, a brain cancer that currently remains almost untreatable. He analyzes both glioblastoma cells and their microenvironments, the tissues and cells (including immune cells) that surround the tumor in the body. He is investigating the roles played by segments of DNA that are not part of the normal genomic structure (extra-chromosomal DNA) that can include extra copies of cancer-promoting genes. Verhaak also leads an international effort to understand how glioma cells evolve during chemotherapy, as they almost always develop therapy resistance and recur in patients. The work will provide understanding of how an individual patient’s normal as well as cancer cells differ from those of other patients, providing another step toward more targeted, effective treatments.

“As one of the leading experts in brain cancers, Roel’s glioblastoma work has already provided important insight into the genomics of this disease,” says Charles Lee, Ph.D., FACMGThe study of structural genomic variation in human biology, evolution and diseaseCharles Lee, Ph.D., FACMG, scientific director and professor at  ConnecticutOur Farmington campus is home to The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine. Researchers here focus on human genomics, complementing our long history of mammalian genetics expertise. The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine . “I am extremely pleased that Roel’s endowed chair position will further enable him to combine his deep expertise in computational biology with his passion for finding effective treatments for cancer.”

The Florine Deschenes Roux Chair for Genomics and Computational Biology is one of three faculty chairs that were established by a $5 million David and Barbara Roux Provide $10 Million Gift for Genomic Medicine ResearchThe Jackson Laboratory (JAX) today announced that technology investor David Roux and his wife Barbara have gifted $10 million to support research and find cures for genetically-based diseases. The center will be based at the Laboratory’s locations in both Maine and Connecticut.gift from technology investor (and current chairman of the Laboratory’s Board of Trustees) David Roux and his wife Barbara in 2014. Their gift was matched by JAX for a total gift of $10 million to create the Roux Family Center for Genomics and Computational BiologyThe center enables scientists to harness the full power of genomic technologies and computational strategies and use them to analyze the human genome to discover new and better ways of preventing and treating disease Roux Family Center for Genomics and Computational Biology .

A record-breaking year

These gifts build on JAX’s philanthropic momentum in 2020, which was a record-breaking year for fundraising with more than $21 million raised in support of the Laboratory’s mission. JAX donors made transformational gifts towards  Diana Davis Spencer Foundation pledges $4M to JAX for vision researchFunding will support scientific research and training activities in the field of neurodegenerative diseases of the eye, including graduate and postdoctoral fellowship training and research projects in glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and ocular signs of Alzheimer’s disease. vision research, the  Maine Cancer Genomics Initiative expands; offers clinical trials and new technologyThe Maine Cancer Genomics Initiative (MCGI), a collaboration aimed at making the latest personalized medicine available to cancer patients throughout Maine, will now bring new precision oncology clinical trials to the state, support access to targeted therapies for patients not eligible for trials, and develop novel technology to enhance genomic education and genetic services through online platforms. Maine Cancer Genomics Initiative ,  JAX donors contribute $100,000 to new COVID-19 modelsA generous gift from Jackson Laboratory (JAX) donors will support the development of new humanized mouse models for beating COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has infected over 7 million worldwide, killing over 400,000 people. COVID-19 research ,  Anonymous gift will help teach the genome generationA budding genomics education program will expand to teachers nationwide through the creation of an online course in personal genomics for high school STEM educators. STEM education and more.