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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Faculty Profile: Vladimir I. Gelfand, PhD, D Sc, Leslie B. Arey Professor, Department of Cell & Developmental Biology

Vladimir I. Gelfand, PhD

Before coming to Northwestern University in 2005, Vladimir I. Gelfand, PhD, D Sc, Leslie B. Arey Professor, Feinberg School of Medicine Department of Cell & Developmental Biology, spent more than two decades studying cell biology in his native Russia and more than a decade as a professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign‐Urbana.

Gelfand now serves on the editorial board for several journals, including Cell Motility and the Cytoskeleton and The FASEB Journal — the journal of the federation of American societies for experimental biology — and has published numerous papers in publications such as Nature, The Journal of Cell Biology and Science. Gelfand’s research is currently supported by two NIH‐funded grants.

What are your research interests?
The focus of research in my lab is on mechanisms of intracellular transport and cytoskeleton dynamics. In particular, I am interested in microtubule motors — proteins that move cargo along microtubule tracks and play a key role in the organization of cytoplasm in every cell. Microtubules and microtubule motors are involved in cell division, secretion, endocytosis and transport of every organellein the cytoplasm. Mutations in genes encoding motor proteins are often lethal, and in cases when they are not lethal they lead to a number of neurodegenerative
and other diseases.

What research projects are you currently pursuing?
At this point, we have two major interests. First, we are studying how multiple microtubule motors on the surface of cargo interact with each other and how motors are regulated by the cell. Second, we discovered that microtubule motors not only move different classes of cargo along microtubules but also move microtubules themselves. We are working to understand how motors move microtubules in the cell and how this movement helps to generate cytoskeleton organization.

What is the ultimate goal of your research?
Microtubules and microtubule motors are most important in large cells where diffusion alone is not sufficient for delivery of components to their proper destinations. That is why neurons are the first cells to suffer if something goes wrong with microtubule‐dependent transport. We would like to know if defects in the transport machinery or its regulation contribute to pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative diseases.

What brought you to the Feinberg School of Medicine?
The most attractive parts of Northwestern for me were the strength of the academic biomedical community at Feinberg and at Northwestern in general, and the possibility of collaborating with colleagues here at Northwestern and in the Chicago area in general.

What are some of the challenges you face?
So far, the biggest challenge for me and for many of my colleagues was the state of NIH funding. I also would like to collaborate more with the clinical faculty and be involved in translational research. Basic science is essential in generating knowledge that can be used in medicine, and interactions between clinical scientists and scientists in basic science departments should be facilitated by the medical school.