Campus & Community

New department approved

6 min read

Cross-School department links FAS and HMS

The Harvard Corporation has approved, with the support of the deans of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and the Harvard Medical School (HMS), the establishment of a new Department of Developmental and Regenerative Biology, the first academic department in Harvard’s 371-year history to be based in more than one of the University’s Schools. The new department will bring together researchers from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Medical School.

The establishment of academic departments bringing together faculty from different Schools within Harvard — and specifically the creation of a Department of Developmental and Regenerative Biology — was a key recommendation of the University Planning Committee for Science and Engineering. That body was created last year to assess science and engineering research and education at Harvard and propose ways for the University to take advantage of opportunities in multidisciplinary areas of science and engineering. Download UPCSE final report (PDF)

The creation of the new department was approved Monday (April 2) by the Harvard Corporation, which less than four months ago asked the president and provost to prepare a proposal for the creation of the department. The planning over the last four months for the new cross-School department was overseen this spring by the deans of the faculties of Arts and Sciences and Medicine, and the provost. FAS Dean Jeremy R. Knowles, the Amory Houghton Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, praised the Corporation for moving forward so quickly. “I am very pleased that the Corporation has acted so speedily on this recommendation of the University Planning Committee on Science and Engineering, underlining — as it does — Harvard’s early decision to move forward in this translational area of biology to medicine.”

University Provost Steven E. Hyman said that “in launching this new Department of Developmental and Regenerative Biology, we are moving to the next stage of Harvard’s commitment to collaborative efforts to connect fundamental biology with the goals of medicine, both strengthening our work in traditional disciplines, and expanding our teaching and research. This department will bring together scientists from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Medical School, including basic and clinical researchers at our affiliated hospitals, and will allow us to leverage our efforts in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.”

In order to help integrate fully the often disparate worlds of scientific research within FAS, HMS, and the affiliated hospitals, the Department of Developmental and Regenerative Biology will have two chairs — Doug Melton, the Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences in FAS, and David Scadden, Gerald and Darlene Jordan Professor of Medicine at HMS and Massachusetts General Hospital. Melton and Scadden, founding co-directors of the three-year-old Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), stress that the new academic department will complement and strengthen, rather than supplant, HSCI.

“The Department of Developmental and Regenerative Biology is part of Harvard’s broader effort in stem cell biology,” Melton explained. “The members of the department have elected to come together to work in one location in order to intensify their collaborations and provide new opportunities for undergraduates, graduate [students], and medical students to receive training in developmental biology and regenerative medicine. At the same time,” he said, “we maintain a robust commitment to the entire field of stem cell biology through HSCI,” which has some 120 principal investigators, and about 750 scientists in Harvard’s various Schools and affiliated hospitals.

“The department will bring together faculty from across the University and affiliated hospitals and make it possible to hire new faculty in this burgeoning area of biomedicine, something that we couldn’t do with HSCI alone,” Melton said. “Looking ahead to the new science building in Allston, the department will enable better connections between the Schools and hospitals in interdisciplinary education and research. We are excited that the University has recognized the import and potential of developmental and stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, and look forward to making Harvard a great place for teaching and research in these interrelated areas.”

The department will be housed in Harvard’s new science complex in Allston, which is expected to be completed in about two years, and the governance of the department will be overseen by the recently created Harvard University Science and Engineering Committee (HUSEC) — which is chaired by the provost and includes both the HMS and FAS deans.

Harvard Medical School Dean Joseph B. Martin, Caroline Shields Walker Professor of Neurobiology and Clinical Neuroscience, noted that while individual inter-faculty collaborations are not new to Harvard, the institutionalization of them in a new academic department offers “unprecedented” opportunities. “Over the past decade the Medical School has developed many strong collaborations with our hospitals and with faculty at FAS, the School of Public Health, and with other Harvard faculties,” Martin said, “but this new initiative, with its status as a full fledged department, will have academic opportunities that are unprecedented in terms of appointments and the options for creating learning opportunities.”

The new department will initially have 13 to 16 members, with a search under way for three new junior faculty hires. Some of its members will have their entire research enterprises in Allston, while some researchers will split their labs between Allston and one or another of the affiliated hospitals.

“Creating this department clearly signals that Harvard is going to be bold and is going to lead in forging new connections between basic science and human health,” said Scadden. “The department will combine the highly dynamic areas of developmental biology and stem cell biology and link them to human biology so richly studied by the Medical School and affiliated hospitals.”

Scadden said that the department can “create exciting and unique educational opportunities for our students at all levels by bringing these worlds together. Placing it in Allston will create an organizing hub to bring together the medical and Cambridge campuses. It is an experiment. If successful, it may transform the University,” he said, adding that he is “delighted and honored to be a part of it, and can think of no better person with whom to work to create the new culture and new structure the department represents than Doug Melton.”