Susan P. Gilbert, a renowned expert in cell biology, biophysics, and nanoscience, will join Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as the head of the Biology Department on Sept. 1, 2007. Gilbert joins the Rensselaer faculty after 12 years at the University of Pittsburgh.
“At Rensselaer we continue to focus on research and teaching in the biological sciences, from the molecular to the ecosystems level,” Provost Robert Palazzo said. “Professor Gilbert’s extensive experience in higher education and her interdisciplinary approach to research and education will further our research mission in life sciences and biotechnology, while helping Rensselaer students shape their careers as they become productive leaders in an emerging global scientific community.”
Gilbert plans to build on the key strengths of the biology department. “With the hiring of top-level constellation chairs and faculty, the Biology Department has an extremely strong foundation,” she said. “I hope to build on this foundation by utilizing Rensselaer’s strong interdisciplinary approach to research and learning. In this environment, we can rapidly incorporate new approaches for undergraduate and graduate education.”
Under Gilbert’s leadership, the department will work to create biologists who can be successful in the global scientific community. “The biologists of today work alongside chemists, physicists, mathematicians, engineers, computer scientists, and clinicians,” she said. “Therefore, these research teams are better able to accelerate the translation of basic science to application to solve some of the greatest problems in modern medicine, the environment, and the energy needs for the global community.
“We want our students to have a strong foundation in mathematics, the physical and information sciences, and to develop the common language required for these highly successful, interdisciplinary research teams.”
Gilbert has spent more than 20 years in higher education. She comes to Rensselaer from the University of Pittsburgh, where she served on the faculty of the Department of Biological Sciences. During her time with the University of Pittsburgh, she was a member of the Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology Graduate Program and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.
In addition to National Institutes of Health (NIH) R01 research funding, Gilbert received an NIH Career Development Award through the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). She is a fellow and member of the board of directors for the American Academy of Nanomedicine as well as a member of Council and chair of the membership committee for the Biophysical Society.
Gilbert is recognized for her research on cell motility. She studies the nanoscale molecular motors of the cell and investigates a family of motors known as kinesins that interact with microtubules, the interstate highways of the cell. Some kinesins are drivers that move material along the microtubule highways. Other kinesins are the construction workers of the nanoscale streets, where they can break down and rebuild microtubules. Others orchestrate the movements of cell assemblies to ensure correct chromosome segregation and cell division.
Understanding the role of different kinesins in the body offers scientists the opportunity to target drugs to a specific type of kinesin, thus stopping the kinesin from performing its unique job, she said. Gilbert is working to understand the kinesins that function in cell division as cell division drives the spread of cancer in the human body. “If specific kinesins can be targeted and disrupted by drugs, chemotherapy of the future could become highly effective and more comfortable for the patients,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert received a bachelor’s in chemistry from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and a doctorate in cell biology from Dartmouth College. She performed much of her early research at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. She completed her postdoctoral research at Pennsylvania State University. In addition to the societies noted, Gilbert is also a member of the American Society for Cell Biology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. She is on the editorial boards for the Biophysical Journal, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Nanomedicine, and Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine.