Leading International Scientists to Join U.Va. School of Medicine Faculty

Dec. 6, 2006 -- Christine and Bernard Thisse, internationally renowned for their work in embryonic research and genetics, will join the University of Virginia School of Medicine faculty in August 2007.

The Thisses are currently studying how groups of cells that result from the division of the fertilized egg communicate with each other to bring about the shape of an organism and the formation of organs within the organism. Their research is key to the emerging field of regenerative medicine and stem cell biology, the prevention and treatment of birth defects and the understanding of processes that can lead to cancer when proper tissue development goes awry. Because of the fundamental nature of their work, it has the potential to impact on our understanding of many different disease processes.

“The recruitment of Bernard and Christine Thisse represents important progress for the Board of Visitors’ initiative to enhance research in key areas of science,” said R. Ariel Gomez, vice president for research and graduate studies at U.Va. “The Thisses’ pioneering research will complement and expand the innovative and interdisciplinary work now taking place at the University’s Morphogenesis and Regenerative Medicine Institute.”  

The Board of Visitors’ initiative includes recruiting new faculty members to lead pan-University research groups, accelerating construction of new research space and retaining prominent and up-and-coming faculty members. The Thisses will join the Department of Cell Biology and the Morphogenesis and Regenerative Medicine Institute.

“We are thrilled to have them bring their expertise and great reputations to our scientific community, especially to the efforts in morphogenesis and regenerative medicine,” said Barry Gumbiner, chair of the Department of Cell Biology and director of the Morphogenesis & Regenerative Medicine Institute.

The Thisses’ hiring marks the second and third addition to the School of Medicine’s faculty in recent months under the Board of Visitors Initiative. Recently, Stephen S. Rich, one of the world’s leading epidemiologists and geneticists, was appointed director of U.Va.’s Center for Public Health Genomics.
“Having the Thisses join our faculty is a coup for the University of Virginia and provides our current faculty members with extraordinary opportunities for collaboration,” said Arthur Garson Jr., dean and vice president of the School of Medicine. “With their leadership, we will establish a global presence in a key area of embryonic and genetic research.”

The Thisses come to U.Va. from the Institute of Genetic Molecular and Cellular Biology (IGBMC) in Strasbourg, France. Christine and Bernard Thisse both received doctoral degrees from University Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg.

The Thisses have jointly served as director of research for the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research) and individually as group leader in the Department of Developmental Biology at the IGBMC. Christine is a member of the National Committee of the CNRS and Bernard is the current president of the French Society of Developmental Biology.

They began their career in zebra fish research as postdoctoral fellows at the University of Oregon and later returned to France to build their own research program at the IGBMC. They use zebra fish for their research because it is a vertebrate with many developmental mechanisms similar to those of humans.