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Gene Networks Researcher Recognized

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Eric H. Davidson, PhD, has been awarded the International Prize for Biology from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for his research related to understanding gene regulatory networks, particularly as it pertains to embryonic development. Dr. Davidson is Norman Chandler Professor of Cell Biology in the Division of Biology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Instead of focusing on individual genes, Dr. Davidson has focused his studies on a broad approach to understanding how groups of genes are regulated and interact to establish and maintain the developmental program that underlies developmental processes. This approach has proven critical to understanding how a single cell can ultimately give rise to multiple specialized cells and tissues with an array of diverse functions.

As their model system, Dr. Davidson and his colleagues have used the sea urchin to define and study these developmental gene regulatory networks. The production of hundreds of thousands of developing embryos has permitted molecular studies not possible in higher vertebrates.

Despite the evolutionary distance between vertebrates and the sea urchin, the lessons learned are believed to have direct implications for the studies of other species, including man. An understanding of these types of networks may have implications for the diagnosis and treatment of human disease. While this may be seen most readily as it applies to an understanding of human birth defects or congenital anomalies, they may have broader therapeutic and diagnostic applications. In like fashion, an understanding of gene regulatory networks may permit the facile programming of stem cells to permit the creation of tissues or cell types to permit the replacement of diseased tissues. Therapies as diverse as the provision of new myocardium or new neuronal tissue for patients following heart attacks or stroke may hinge on such insights.

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