Roger Cone named director of the U-M Life Sciences Institute

Roger Cone, Ph.D.

ANN ARBOR — Roger D. Cone, Ph.D., will serve as the new Mary Sue Coleman Director of the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute, effective Sept. 1. His appointment was approved Thursday, June 16 by the Board of Regents.

Cone, a distinguished obesity researcher and experienced administrator, joins U-M from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, where he serves as chairman of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and the Joe C. Davis Chair in Biomedical Science. He also is director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Obesity and Metabolism and associate director for Vanderbilt’s Diabetes Research and Training Center.

“The Life Sciences Institute will help propel the University of Michigan forward as we strive for even greater excellence and impact during an era of unprecedented discovery potential in the biological and biomedical sciences,” said President Mark Schlissel, whose office led the national search. “I am pleased to welcome a scientist and leader of Dr. Cone's caliber to the U-M family.”

Cone succeeds director Alan R. Saltiel, Ph.D., who left U-M last year to lead a diabetes research center at the University of California, San Diego following a 13-year tenure leading the LSI. Institute faculty member Stephen J. Weiss, M.D., has served as interim director.

“Dr. Cone is an outstanding scientific researcher and an accomplished leader. His commitment to excellence drives his collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to learning and will serve the Life Sciences Institute well,” said Provost Martha Pollack. “We look forward to the institute’s continuing contributions to our understanding of human health, confident that under Dr. Cone’s leadership LSI will continue on its current strong trajectory.”

Cone earned a B.A. in biochemistry summa cum laude from Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the mentorship of the gene therapy pioneer Richard C. Mulligan.

“I’m honored at the opportunity to join such an amazing group of scientists at the LSI and across the campus,” said Cone. “I look forward to working with this strong community to build on the institute’s success as we chart the course for its second decade.”

The LSI is an independent unit at U-M, with faculty members representing a constellation of life sciences disciplines including genetics, cell biology, stem cell biology, chemical biology, biochemistry, neuroscience and structural biology. Faculty members have joint appointments at the LSI and at least one school or college — currently, the Medical School, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, and College of Pharmacy.

Cone was appointed professor of molecular and integrative physiology in the Medical School.

Prior to joining Vanderbilt in 2008, Cone served as director of the Center the Study of Weight Regulation and Associated Disorders at Oregon Health and Science University and as a senior scientist at OHSU’s Vollum Institute.

Cone is known for his discovery of some of the key receptors and neural circuits in the brain that regulate energy stores, and his laboratory continues to study the role of these receptors and circuits in obesity, wasting disease (cachexia) and anorexia. His lab’s recent projects include development of small molecule compounds for the treatment of obesity, identification of novel cell signaling pathways in the brain involved in the regulation of body weight, and identification of genes predisposing humans to anorexia nervosa.

Cone has been recognized for several awards and distinctions including election to the National Academy of Sciences and as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He holds several patents and has published more than 160 scholarly articles. Cone has served on the Board of Scientific Counselors for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the board of the Hilda and Preston Davis Foundation, and currently serves on the editorial board of the journal Cell Metabolism, and the National Academy’s Board on Life Sciences.

Cone has received both local and international awards for his work, including the Ernst Oppenheimer Award from the U.S. Endocrine Society, the Berthold Memorial Award from the German Endocrine Society, the Freedom to Discover Award for Distinguished Achievement in Metabolic Diseases Research from Bristol-Myers Squibb, the Ipsen Prize, the Berson Award from the American Physiological Society, and the Donald Steiner Award from the University of Chicago.

Cone noted that he’s also looking forward to engaging with the academic life of the university. At Vanderbilt, he and his wife recently completed a four-year term living in one of the freshman residence halls, where he served as a Faculty Head of House — a mentor, role model and programming adviser for the community. “It has been a real pleasure to be so deeply engaged in the life of the university, and Midge and I are both very excited to integrate ourselves into a community as vibrant and diverse as the University of Michigan,” Cone said.

About the LSI

The mission of the LSI is to explore fundamental biological and chemical processes of life, with a focus on important problems in human health — including cancer, neurological disorders, metabolic dysfunction, organ transplant rejection, viral infections and antibiotic resistance. LSI researchers’ findings are frequently published in influential scientific journals like Science, Nature and Cell. Recent discoveries by LSI faculty members include:

  • The development of a platform that replicates the native environment of cancer cells, increasing the likelihood that that drugs effective against the growth of tumor cells in the laboratory setting will also be effective in patients.
  • Obtaining the first three-dimensional snapshots of the complex “assembly line” within microorganisms that creates polyketides — a broad class of bioactive compounds that includes some of the most important antibiotics, antifungal agents and cancer drugs in use today — and thus providing a detailed blueprint for manipulating the process to produce new and/or more effective medicines.
  • The discovery of threadlike nanotubes that offer new insights into how stem cells retain their identities when they divide to split off a new, specialized cell.

Along with faculty labs, the LSI houses core discovery resources that serve the entire campus, including the Center for Chemical Genomics (CCG), the Center for Structural Biology (CSB), and the jointly funded Center for the Discovery of New Medicines (CDNM). The CCG houses a high-throughput screening center featuring a specialized library of natural product compounds, while the CSB provides a comprehensive protein production and crystallography facility. The CDNM provides pilot funding and resources to accelerate drug discovery research. The LSI also is home to one of the country’s most advanced cryo-electron microscope laboratories and to an interdepartmental graduate program in chemical biology.

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