Macara named new Cell and Developmental Biology chair
by John Howser
Ian Macara, Ph.D., the Harrison Distinguished Professor of Microbiology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, has been named the new chair of the Vanderbilt Department of Cell and Developmental Biology.
He will join Vanderbilt in early fall as the Louise B. McGavock Professor and chair of the department.
Macara, who currently serves as director of the Advanced Microscopy Facility with the University of Virginia’s Center for Cell Signaling, succeeds Susan Wente, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs and senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences, in this role. Wente served as the department’s chair from 2002 to 2010, and as interim chair since 2011. William Tansey, Ph.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, was interim chair for 18 months before Wente assumed the interim role.
Macara’s research interests include cell polarization mechanisms in epithelia; epithelial morphogenesis in mammary glands and breast cancer; polarity proteins as tumor suppressors and RNA localization. His research has focused on the role of GTP binding proteins as molecular switches which control a wide range of biological processes including: receptor signaling, intracellular signal transduction pathways and protein synthesis.
“The selection of Dr. Macara for this role demonstrates our firm commitment to recruit outstanding world leaders as basic science chairs. I am delighted that someone of Ian’s stature will be joining us as we build on the great history, tradition and many successes of Cell and Developmental Biology,” said Jeff Balser, M.D. Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
"I want to thank Drs. Wente and Tansey for their dedicated service as interim chairs while this search was under way.”
“Dr. Wente and I wish to thank our search committee chair, Roger Cone, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Obesity and Metabolism and chair of the Department of Molecular Physiology & Biophysics, and other members of the search committee for their steadfast work identifying such an outstanding finalist.”
Other members of the search committee include: David Cortez, Ph.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research; Ron Emeson, Ph.D., the Joel G. Hardman Chair in Pharmacology; Todd Graham, Ph.D., professor of Biological Sciences and Cell and Developmental Biology; Heidi Hamm, Ph.D., the Earl W. Sutherland Jr. Professor in Pharmacology and chair of the department; Stephan Heckers, M.D., the William B. and Henry T. Test Chair in Schizophrenia Research and chair of the Department of Psychiatry; George C. Hill, Ph.D., assistant vice chancellor for Multicultural Affairs and the Levi Watkins Jr. M.D. Professor for Diversity in Medical Education; Richard Peek, M.D., the Mina Cobb Wallace Chair in Immunology and director of the Vanderbilt Digestive Research Center; and Ann Richmond, Ph.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and professor of Cancer Biology.
Macara is joining a growing Department of Cell and Developmental Biology. Under Wente’s direction, the department’s extramural research grant portfolio increased by nearly 73 percent and its number of graduate students nearly doubled from 45 to 85.
“We are thrilled to have Ian joining us as chair,” Wente said. “He comes with a natural leadership style perfectly suited to the department and institution,” she said. “His leadership in research and education will continue to elevate our reputation in scientific discovery.”
Macara is a popular presenter among peer professionals, representing UVa at conferences and symposiums within the U.S. and abroad, and serving as Distinguished Lecturer at Fox Chase Cancer Center; plenary lecturer at the annual meeting of the Korean Society for Molecular and Cell Biology in Seoul, South Korea; and program keynote speaker, U891 INSERM, Marseille, France.
The author of more than 150 research publications, he is also the recipient of professional distinctions such as the University of Virginia Distinguished Scientist Award and UVa’s Harrison Distinguished Professorship.
Macara received his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in Biochemistry from the University of Sheffield, UK. He underwent postdoctoral training at Brandies University, and Harvard University, and was a Miller Visiting Professor at UC Berkeley in 1997.
Joining Macara at VUMC is his wife Deborah Lannigan, Ph.D., associate professor of Microbiology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Lannigan will join Vanderbilt as associate professor in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology (PMI).
“Ian Macara will bring great leadership to the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, with an impressive depth of discoveries in cell signaling, cell division, cell polarity and cancer research. Deborah Lannigan brings an exciting research program in cancer biology and drug discovery. I look forward to welcoming them both to Vanderbilt,” said Cone, the search committee chair and the Joe. C. Davis Chair in Biomedical Science.
“We are very excited to have Deb Lannigan and her group join us at Vanderbilt. She brings new approaches and insights into cancer biology that will enhance our existing research programs. Synergies with other investigators in cancer and matrix biology should lead to ground breaking new work. She will be a great colleague. It is a real coup to get her here,” said Samuel Santoro, M.D., Ph.D., the Dorothy B. and Theodore R. Austin Professor in Pathology and chair of PMI.
At the University of Virginia, Lannigan’s research focused on signaling pathways involved in mammary gland homeostasis and breast cancer. Last year, Lannigan and fellow researchers at UVa. published a novel study in the journal Genes & Development demonstrating that they could successfully and accurately replicate the early growth of human breast tissue outside of the body by using a novel three-dimensional model developed in their lab. The model allows researchers to visualize how breast tissue grows in its earliest stages, providing the capability for a close look at the early stages of breast cancer and the potential to understand how and why the normal well- ordered development is lost in cancer.
“I am delighted by the opportunity and challenge of leading the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology,” Macara said. “I have known Susan Wente for many years and always had enormous admiration for her leadership skills and for the impressive department she built. I never imagined that I would one day have the opportunity to step into her shoes, but Deb and I were both attracted by the outstanding quality of the faculty and the world-class research environment at Vanderbilt. The collegiality and professionalism at the departmental, medical school and university level were irresistible. We look forward to working with our new colleagues.”