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INTERVIEW: New Head of EMBL Mouse Project Foresees Big Future for the Little Creature

MONTEROTONDO, Italy, Aug. 9 – Call it the mouse project that roars.

Following the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s decision to step up funding for its Mouse Biology Program here, researchers are now preparing for what is expected to be the dawn of a new era for murine research.

“This particular situation is a dream situation,” said Nadia Rosenthal, the newly appointed head of the facility.

Rosenthal, who was previously an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said that as head of the Monterotondo facility, she will now have the resources to provide the support necessary to uncover new findings about mouse biology and disease.

“My experience at Harvard has set me up to head the animal research program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Now I will be applying that background to Italy, where the resources are paradoxically much greater,” Rosenthal told GenomeWeb .

“With the mouse it’s all or nothing – you can’t do a little mouse research and be competitive,” she added.

Under Rosenthal’s direction, the Monterotondo facility, which was established in 1999 and is located on the same campus as the Italian National Research Council and the European Mutant Mouse Archive, will now double the number of its research groups to six, with the possibility of adding more in the near future. Some 60 researchers from around the world will be employed by the center.

Rosenthal, 48, who has focused on the study of mouse muscle development in the skeletal system and the heart as well as stem-cell biology, is now in the process of moving her lab to Italy. In addition to her own areas of interest, Rosenthal said that researchers in Monterotondo would also use the mouse to study the pathologies of the nervous system, skeletal dynamics, the role of gene expression and transcription factors in disease, and inflammatory diseases.

Rosenthal is also hoping to link all of the mutant mouse centers throughout Europe as part of a larger effort to standardize the way mouse phenotypes are catalogued. By coordinating efforts, Rosenthal said that researchers around the world would eventually benefit from having access to all of the mouse models that are created as researchers mutate genes.

“When you mutate the gene you create a model for a disease, the genetic basis of which was previously unknown,” she said. “Once you have the phenotype it can be compared to a human disorder.”

In addition, she said that she would also work to establish a service that would link gene expression patterns in mice to information contained in public databases.

Since her appointment in July, Rosenthal has also been in touch with Janet Thornton, who was simultaneously named as the new director of EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, UK. Rosenthal is hoping to work with Thornton to develop new bioinformatics tools for studying the mouse as well as for interlinking the research institutes’ efforts.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of potential to build a mouse biology project in Europe,” Rosenthal said.

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