Symposium Gathers Experts on Homeostatic Regulation

JBL-Hotamisligil-Little-Boice-470x313-470x313November 3, 2014 — Cutting-edge work on homeostatic regulation—the process through which the human body maintains stability in response to changes in external conditions—was the focus at the 17th annual John B. Little Symposium, held October 24-25, 2014 at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

About 180 attendees heard from numerous experts in the field, who discussed topics ranging from radiation epidemiology to fat synthesis and storage to how certain genes and small molecules extend lifespan. HSPH faculty presenters at the symposium included Robert Farese, professor of genetics and complex diseases, and Gökhan Hotamisligil, chair of the Department of Molecular Metabolism.

Robert Farese
HSPH’s Robert Farese discusses fat synthesis and storage in lipid droplets.

The John B. Little Symposium is hosted each year by the John B. Little (JBL) Center for Radiation Sciences and Environmental Health. Both the symposium and the center are named for John B. Little, James Steven Simmons Professor of Radiobiology Emeritus, one of the first scholars to characterize problems in public health as interactions between environmental stressors and humans’ response to those stressors.

In his introduction to the symposium, Hotamisligil praised Little as the “inspirational leader in our department, and father of this field, and father of the symposium.” Little was on hand to welcome attendees.

Both Hotamisligil and Dean for Academic Affairs David Hunter, who gave opening remarks, also acknowledged the support of alumnus Gerald Chan, SM ’75, SD ’79, a former student of Little’s and a director of the Morningside Foundation. The Foundation and Dr. Chan have provided crucial support for the JBL center and the symposium. They also supported the establishment in 2012 of the Morningside Professorship in Radiobiology, in honor of Little. In September of this year, the Morningside Foundation and the Chan family gave HSPH a transformational gift of $350 million in unrestricted endowment—the largest single donation in Harvard’s history and, according to Hunter, the 6th largest to any university in the world. In acknowledgement of the gift, the School will be renamed the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in honor of Gerald Chan’s father.

Hunter also announced that the JBL Center will become a school-wide collaboration among the Department of Molecular Metabolism (its current home), the Department of Environmental Health, and the Department of Epidemiology. Hunter said the move is being made possible by a generous gift from an international donor.

This year’s symposium was organized by Zhi-Min Yuan, professor of radiobiology and director of the JBL Center; James Mitchell, associate professor of genetics and complex diseases; and Brendan Manning, professor of genetics and complex diseases.

Karen Feldscher

photos: Tony Rinaldo