Robert Darnell is the Heilbrunn Professor of Cancer Biology at The Rockefeller University and has been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator since 2002. He is Senior Physician at the RU Hospital and an Adjunct Attending Neuro-Oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. His work on disease mechanisms of tumor immunity and autoimmune brains disease led to the basic discovery that neurons have unique systems for regulating RNA metabolism, and the development of a new tool, HITS-CLIP, to study RNA regulation in vivo. He has received numerous awards, including the Derek Denny-Brown Neurological Scholar Award, the Burroughs Wellcome Clinical Scientist Award in Translational Research, and an NIH Directors Transformative Research Award. He is a Member of both the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dr. Darnell serves on the NINDS Advisory Council, and the National Academy of Medicine Roundtable on Translating Genomic-Based Research for Health. In November 2012 Dr. Darnell was appointed President, CEO and Scientific Director of the New York Genome Center, a not-for-profit academic consortium. At NYGC he has organized a Board of Directors headed by the Presidents of 12 major academic medical centers, brought on 8 faculty members, and hired a team of 125 to run a state-of-the-art sequencing and informatics facility in a new $54M building

Research Interests

Dr. Darnell is a physician scientist who has pioneered next-generation approaches to understanding RNA genomics in human disease. He is a world's expert in the study of the paraneoplastic neurologic disorders (PNDs), diseases associated with cancer, tumor immunity and autoimmune brain disease. Much of the lab has focused on translational studies of the PNDs, proposing that they provide a basic approach to understanding brain specific functions co-opted by tumor cells, as well as the best documented example of naturally occurring human tumor immunity amenable to study. The lab's studies of disease mechanism, discovering PND antigen-specific CD8+ T cells in these patients, was foundational to the new field of immuno-oncology. He developed molecular approaches to understanding disease pathogenesis and discovering the presence of neuron-specific systems for RNA regulation in the brain, and developing HITS-CLIP, the gold-standard for studying RNA-protein interactions in vivo. The basic lab combined genetic approaches with biochemistry and new methods development to study RNA regulation in neurons. The lab discovered rules predicting brain-specific alternative splicing, showing the first evidence for biologic coherence of RNA regulation in vivo. This work developed into a general understanding of how genome-wide RNA-binding maps predict protein-RNA regulation, in which the position of binding determines the outcome of RNA regulation, first discovered with Nova and now found to be true for a host of RNA regulatory proteins (Nature 2006, 2008). The lab also developed Ago HITS-CLIP (Nature 2009), a precise means of pinpointing protein-RNA and miRNA-mRNA regulatory sites on a genome-wide basis, and hence a means to understand the interactions regulating RNA expression.

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Primary Section

Section 24: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

Secondary Section

Section 41: Medical Genetics, Hematology, and Oncology