Message from the Director

The Immune Disease Institute (IDI) is at an auspicious point in its 57-year history, as we prepare to fully merge with Children's Hospital Boston, becoming the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine (PCMM).  We all view this merger, which should take place by the fall of 2012, as an exciting opportunity to augment and extend our research, interact with clinical scientists on a daily basis, and translate our basic science discoveries. In looking forward to this future, I think it's worthwhile to also look back at our past.

What's now known as the Immune Disease Institute has been entwined with Children's from the beginning.  We were established in 1953 as the Protein Foundation, an offshoot of basic research at Harvard Medical School, and later renamed as the Blood Research Institute. In 1972, that Institute merged with the Blood Grouping Laboratory at Children's (founded by the renowned pediatric hematologist, Louis Diamond) to become the Center for Blood Research. The CBR's first president was the late Charles A. Janeway, then Children's Physician-in-Chief, and whose endowed chair I now hold.  Douglas M Surgenor was the President from 1972 - 1986 and Chester Alper was the Scientific Director of the CBR from 1972-1993.  Chester is still an active investigator with us today.  Eileen Remold, who is also still active with us today, was another early IDI member joining CBR in 1976.

CBR moved from its original building, on the site of Children's current Enders Building, to a somewhat remote location at 800 Huntington Avenue, previously the site of a car dealership. In 1986, CBR became affiliated with Harvard Medical School (HMS).

The following year was pivotal. The late Fred Rosen became CBR's president, and over subsequent years, Fred was instrumental in recruiting and mentoring a truly outstanding collection of immunologists and other prominent scientists starting early on with Tim Springer and then with others including current senior investigators Anjana Rao, Judy Lieberman, Tom Kirchhausen, Denisa Wagner, Uli von Andrian, Michael Carroll, Anne Goldfeld and most recently Klaus Rajewsky.   All of these investigators continue to maintain extremely active labs at the PCMM/IDI.   I was recruited from Columbia University in 1991, to maintain labs both at the CBR and at Children's.   My joint recruitment was led by Fred Rosen and by David Nathan, the former Pediatrician-in-Chief of Children's and former President of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  Later, Fred Rosen also recruited Les Silberstein jointly with CHB; Les is the Director of the Transfusion Medicine Program at CHB and the leader of the PCMM/IDI Center for Human Cell Therapy, a part of major new effort in translational medicine.

In 1992, CBR expanded to the Warren Alpert Building on the HMS campus and in 2003, the CBR was renamed the CBR Institute for Biomedical Research (CBRI) to reflect its expanded scope of research.  For more than a decade, the CBR had labs in both the Warren Alpert Building and the Huntington Avenue location.  In 2005, I became scientific director of the CBRI, succeeding Fred Rosen.

Two years later, our name changed one more time - to the Immune Disease Institute (IDI) - and Ted Cronin, our long time chief financial officer, was named president and CEO.  Today, PCMM/IDI has brought everyone back to the Longwood campus, vacating 800 Huntington Avenue for space on the third floor of the new Center for Life Sciences building.  This move brought a number of our investigators next door to Children's Karp research building, where I maintain my own lab. All of us are now located in the heart of the Longwood biomedical research community, and we are very happy to be here.

Bringing all of our investigators back to Longwood, of course, came at a cost. IDI made two strategic moves in the past two years to put its finances on a secure standing.  In 2008, IDI launched a five-year, $25 million research collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). This collaboration is a significant boost to our research budget, and although it's aimed at developing new treatments for autoimmune and inflammatory disease, the investigators who receive GSK funding have complete freedom to determine the direction of their work.  In turn, GSK receives the right to negotiate first for many of the new technologies discovered. The agreement also opens an exciting opportunity to work alongside GSK's outstanding scientists and to benefit from their large-scale technologies, while still allowing us to collaborate with others.

In February 2009, IDI entered into a formal affiliation with Children's. Being part of a larger research enterprise has increased our financial stability, but this merger was also scientifically motivated. Children's was the obvious scientific partner for IDI, with its exceptionally strong basic research programs and our long and rich joint history. Though IDI's major focus is immunology, our investigators also work in cancer biology, cell biology, genetics and genomics, and many other areas that dovetail with programs at Children's.

Collaborations with scientists at Children's have already begun - in immunology, hematology, pulmonary medicine and more - and the opportunities for further interactions are tremendous. These collaborations will be enhanced by bringing IDI researchers into close proximity with Children's scientists - for example, by bringing the huge talents of Children's Stephen Harrison and his colleagues into close physical proximity with those of IDI's Tim Springer and IDI junior faculty Sun Hur and Wesley Wong in the Center for Life Sciences building.  This clustering of CHB and PCMM/IDI scientists arguably forms one of the great structural biology centers in the world.

Ted Cronin's retirement after 24 years has left a big void to fill. When I became Scientific Director in 2005, Fred Rosen advised me to never let Ted leave the Institute, describing him as absolutely indispensable. Although I haven't quite succeeded at keeping him here, Ted was with us when we needed him most. He and I were close partners in making strategic decisions, and we worked together to make it through some very challenging times. Through Ted's determination, skill and integrity, the Institute is set up to flourish long into the future.  Upon Ted's retirement at the end of 2009, the joint board of the IDI and Children's asked me to take on my current position of President in addition to continuing to serve as Director.

Steve Simmons, previously IDI's director of finance and operations, has now succeeded Ted as Executive Director of the Institute. He, too, worked closely with Ted for over two decades.  He will now report both to me and to David Kirshner, chief financial officer of Children's.  Steve and I have already established a terrific working relationship and we are dedicated to maintaining the same high level of administrative support that has always been associated with the CBR/CBRI/IDI over the years.

Our goals for the future? A major goal is to continue developing synergistic interactions with Children's researchers, particularly in imaging, genomics and computational biology. We're also excited about working with Children's clinical scientists in seeking more applications for our work, and in building on our past successes -- from discovering integrins, the basis for two psoriasis drugs, to developing small interfering RNAs that target viral and host genes and that potentially act as prophylactics against herpes and HIV.

We're also excited about bridging our past with our future, with several new chairs endowed by Tim Springer. Tim's seminal discoveries of molecules that control white blood cell migration led to the development of several important cancer drugs. The chairs that Tim has endowed will enable us to continue to recruit some of the world's most talented scientists and to continue to make such important breakthroughs. In this regard, Judy Lieberman is currently chairing an ongoing search, in collaboration with the CHB Department of Medicine, for a senior faculty member whose research will complement the existing PCMM/IDI strengths.

A major PCMM/IDI goal has been to build up our core of junior faculty. Three years ago Motomu Shimaoka, who was recently promoted to the position of Associate Professor of Anesthesiology, was our only junior faculty recruit.  In the meantime, we have made four spectacular junior faculty hires: Derrick Rossi, a stem cell biologist focusing on hematopoietic stem cells; Sun Hur, a structural biologist with expertise in X-ray crystallography; Florian Winau, a top-notch basic immunologist focusing on innate immunity and antigen presentation, and most recently Wesley Wong who currently holds a prestigious Rowland Institute fellowship at Harvard University.  We believe that the current crop of junior faculty have strong potential to be future stars and will continue to advance into the foreseeable future the tradition of world leading basic science that has been a trademark of the CBR/CBRI/IDI/PCMM.   Our goal is to add at least one more junior faculty recruit in the coming year.

I greatly look forward to this year's scientific retreat, which will be held from Sept. 12-14 at the SeaCrest Resort on Cape Cod.  This major annual event for PCMM/IDI will be enhanced this year by a keynote talk from Alexander (Sasha) Rudensky of Memorial Sloan Kettering, the presence of a number of our past and current trustees, the active participation of GSK, and, as always, the interactions with the world class scientists on our scientific advisory board.  I anticipate a fascinating weekend, with plenty of great interactions.

Life is good!