University appoints new Cell Biology chair

In another move aimed to boost its standing in the sciences, the University has lured world-renowned scientist James Rothman ’71 from Columbia to chair the School of Medicine’s department of cell biology.

Rothman’s hiring was announced Thursday. He will also lead a new institute to be launched at the West Campus, the former home of Bayer HealthCare acquired by the University last summer.

“Jim Rothman is one of the most brilliant researchers of our time,” Robert Alpern, the dean of the School of Medicine, said in a news release, noting that the scientist brings “a combination of brilliance and intensity to his research.”

Under Rothman’s leadership, the cell biology department will be significantly expanded, the University announced, and will also launch research on the West Campus.

There, Rothman will also oversee the new Yale Center for High-Throughput Cell Biology, where researchers will “develop tools and techniques to rapidly decipher the cellular functions of the 25,000 known protein-coding genes in the human genome,” as a news release explained it.

The center will be among several new interdisciplinary institutes — whose development was first reported by the News in April — that administrators are quietly planning to launch on the West Campus in areas ranging from cell biology to human genomics.

Rothman, a Branford College alumnus, is the Clyde and Helen Wu Professor of Chemical Biology at Columbia, where he also directs the Columbia Genome Center. A physics major as a Yale undergraduate, his research interests developed out of the work done by former Yale scientist George Palade, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and founding chairman of Yale’s cell biology department.

“It is a privilege to lead the department he founded as we redefine molecular cell biology and catalyze its impact on medicine, and a unique pleasure to return to Yale,” Rothman said in a news release.

After graduating from Yale, Rothman received his doctorate in biological chemistry from the Harvard Medical School. Before heading to Columbia in 2003, he notched stints at M.I.T., Stanford and Princeton and served as the founding chair of the Department of Cellular Biochemistry and Biophysics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

At Yale, Rothman succeeds Sterling Professor of Cell Biology Ira Mellman, who left his post as chairman of the department of cell biology last year to join the the biotechnology company Genentech as vice president for oncology research.

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