Kevin Gardner Named To Lead ASRC’s Structural Biology Initiative

Kevin H. Gardner has been appointed founding director of the ASRC’s structural biology initiative, a move that follows a nationwide search and brings to New York a scientist highly regarded for his innovative and broad-minded approach to biomedical research.

The announcement was made by Gillian Small, CUNY’s vice chancellor for research and the research center’s executive director.

A molecular biophysicist and biochemist, Dr. Gardner comes to CUNY from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where he was the Virginia Lazenby O’Hara Chair in Biochemistry. In addition to his appointment as the director of the ASRC’s structural biology initiative, he will be Einstein Professor of Chemistry at City College.

“Kevin Gardner is a perfect fit for the highly collaborative and entrepreneurial culture we are creating in the Advanced Science Research Center,” said Vice Chancellor  Small, who has overseen CUNY’s multibillion-dollar expansion of innovative scientific research over the past few years. “He is both a national leader in his field of structural biology and someone who is known for thinking broadly, across disciplines, and being very collaborative by nature. He also has experience commercializing his research, an area we are working hard to build at CUNY.”

Dr. Gardner is the second internationally recognized scientist to be named an ASRC director, joining Charles Vörösmarty, an expert in global water issues who leads the environmental sciences initiative. Searches for the directors of the three other initiatives— nanotechnology, photonics and neuroscience—are ongoing and  appointments are expected in the months leading to the ASRC’s opening in fall 2014.

“The ASRC is a great opportunity to do great science,” Dr. Gardner said. “What excites me is that it’s a building that really symbolizes the way science needs to be done today. The traditional model of working solely in your field is becoming increasingly rare. When you get experts in various fields next to each other, as we will in the ASRC, it gives people a chance to work together, to inspire each other, to get help or technical assistance from an expert in another area. That becomes a real driver of innovation and a way to truly unlock problems.”

CUNY Interim Chancellor William P. Kelly said Dr. Gardner’s appointment brings the long-planned ASRC one step closer to reality. “Kevin Gardner is not only a superb scientist but also a dynamic science leader who will help lead CUNY’s continued resurgence in research,” he said. “He epitomizes the interdisciplinary, integrated approach to research that we intend to be the hallmark of future scientific research at the University.”

Vice Chancellor Small said that Dr. Gardner will spend the next year reaching out to faculty across CUNY to organize and build the ASRC structural biology initiative and will move his own research laboratory to the center when it opens a year from now. “I see him building a strong interdisciplinary team and forging creative partnerships with scientists at CUNY and ultimately with other institutions,” she said.

Dr. Gardner said he was impressed by how elegantly the ASRC was conceived for maximum collaboration between disciplines that are at the vanguard of 21st Century science. “As I looked at the ASRC and went through each of the initiatives, I was struck by how much opportunity there will be to work with people on every floor of the building,” Dr. Gardner said. “Now it’s my privilege and my challenge to fill out the rest of the structural biology floor with other scientists who are as drawn as I am to those opportunities.”

Dr. Gardner’s field of structural biology is itself multidisciplinary. It encompasses molecular biology, biochemistry, biophysics and engineering—all focused on the structure of the large “macromolecules,” such as proteins, that carry out most of the functions of cells. Dr. Gardner is an expert in the use of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to study how a cell senses its local environment and adapts accordingly.

The ASRC’s core facilities will house the most advanced NMR equipment, as well as two other high-end research technologies—X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy—that the structural biologists will use to tackle pressing research problems in different areas of biology. Dr. Gardner said that he and his team will use these tools to better understand the natural regulation of macromolecules and uncover novel ways to artificially control them.

“There are many applications that can spin out of these studies, from drug discovery to bioengineering,” Dr. Gardner said. “For example, the work that my group has done gives us insights into the kind of switches cells use to know whether they’ve got enough oxygen or not, and how to control those switches with small molecules that we have discovered. By understanding these proteins and their triggering stimuli, we’ve laid a fantastic foundation for innovative applications like turning genes on or off within cancer cells at times of our choosing.  I greatly look forward to the opportunities presented by coming to New York to work with our colleagues in the nanotechnology and photonics initiatives and elsewhere to turn those things that work in the lab into new generations of tools for scientists, engineers and beyond.”

Dr. Gardner received his Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University in 1995. He conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Toronto before joining the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 1998. He has organized many national and international conferences on structural biology, including the 2014 International Conference for Magnetic Resonance in Biological Systems.