Gaudenz Danuser, PhD

  • Recruited to: The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
  • Recruited from: Harvard Medical School
  • Award: Established Investigator

Dr. Gaudenz Danuser is Professor of Cell Biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center where he is establishing a new interdisciplinary laboratory composed of molecular cell biologists, biophysicists, mathematicians, and computer scientists that focuses on the regulation of cell morphogenesis and migration in lung, brain, and skin cancer. While genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology have provided deep insight into the molecular components of these processes, still very little is understood how all the components work together in space and time. Even less is understood how the processes are affected by environmental factors and how cancer cells manage to adapt to ever changing microenvironments. Answering these questions is essential for identifying the modes of aberrant cell function in cancer and for designing more effective therapeutic measures against proliferation and metastasis. In this context, one of the key questions addresses how environmental cues and morphogenic signals affect drug responses of cancer cells.  

Danuser is best known for the development of quantitative live cell microscopy approaches that permit the direct visualization and measurement of the molecular events implicated in these processes. Using mathematical modeling approaches he and his team then reconstruct the functional hierarchy among molecular events in time and space, an approach that has high potential for shifting the focus of cell biological investigation from individual molecular components to the study of systems of pathways. His lab has applied this framework to unravel the complex set of interacting molecular pathways required to integrate chemical and mechanical cues from the environment and direct cell migration.

Dr. Danuser received his diploma (1993, equivalent to M.S.) and Ph.D. (1997) from ETH Zurich in Switzerland in engineering and computer science, both with distinction. Through his postdoctoral training with Shinya Inoue and Rudolph Oldenbourg at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, he entered the field of bioimaging and began to work on cell motility, initially in neurons and plants. He started his own lab in 1999 at ETH Zurich in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, where he worked on the molecular mechanics of cell migration and adhesion. In 2003 he was recruited back to the U.S, where he joined the Department of Cell Biology at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla. There, he moved through the ranks of Assistant (2003 – 2006), Associate (2006 – 2008), and Full Professor (2009). In 2009 he was recruited to Harvard Medical School as one of the youngest full professors in the history of this institution. He joined the faculty of UT Southwestern Medical Center in 2013. Until fall 2014 he also maintains an appointment as a Visiting Professor at Harvard Medical School. Danuser’s research has been recognized by several honors and awards, most recently by the Barany Award for Young Investigators from the Biophysical Society (2009), a Transformative R01 Grant from the NIH President’s Office (2009), and the Holt Lecturership at MIT (2010). He is a regular keynote speaker at national and international meetings and serves on the advisory boards of several companies and academic institutions in the U.S. and Europe. He is a devoted teacher in areas of computational cell biology, molecular biomechanics and the theory of measurement applied to cell biology. He is also engaged extensively in the educational programs at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. Currently, he is the founding director of an NIH-funded course in Computational Image Analysis in Cell and Developmental Biology.