Clare M. Waterman

National Institutes of Health

Primary Section: 22, Cellular and Developmental Biology
Secondary Section: 29, Biophysics and Computational Biology
Membership Type: Member (elected 2018)


Clare M. Waterman is a Distinguished Investigator at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), in the National Institutes of Health. She is a cell biologist known for her work on  understanding the role of the cytoskeleton in cell migration. She pioneered the invention and application of novel quantitative and super-resolution light microscopy methods. She utilized these tools to reveal the architectural blueprint and dynamics of cytoskeletal nano-machines that self-assemble in cells to generate, organize, and transmit the forces that drive cell movement, and she defined molecular pathways governing the orchestration of these protein machines in space and time. Waterman was born in Pittsburgh, PA and raised in Baltimore, MD. She received her bachelor's degree in biochemistry in from Mount Holyoke College and her MS in exercise science from the University of Massachusetts prior to obtaining her PhD in cell biology from the University of Pennsylvania. After completing post-doctoral training at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, she joined faculty in the Department of Cell Biology at the Scripps Research Institute, and subsequently joined the NHLBI in 2007. Waterman has received numerous awards and honors, including the Sackler International prize in Biophysics, the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, and the Arthur S. Flemming Award for Public Service. In 2018, she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Clare Waterman’s research program is focused on understanding how proteins self-organize into cell-scale macromolecular ensembles that mediate the dynamic morphological and physical processes driving cell migration. The ability of cells to directionally move is critical to embryogenesis, development of the vascular and nervous systems, immune response and wound healing, and its regulation is compromised in vascular disease, immune disease and cancer. Waterman invented the method of Fluorescent Speckle Microscopy (FSM) and used this and other state-of-the art light microscopy methods to elucidate how macromolecular protein complexes self-organize at the cell-scale to mediate directed physical outputs that drive specific cell shape change and movement. She has pioneered an integrated approach that demonstrated how cellular structures composed of the microtubule, filamentous actin, and integrin adhesion proteins are dynamically built and maintained, how they physically  interact with one another, and how cell signaling coordinates their structure and dynamics to specifically mediate cell migration. Her work has shown that specific transient protein-protein interactions in a “molecular clutch” generate organized and directed forces in the cytoskeleton and transmit them through integrin-based focal adhesions to the extracellular environment to drive cell motility and morphogenesis of the vasculature.

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