New Leader Charts Course for Neurobiology

Newly appointed chair David Ginty shares his plans for moving the neurobiology department into the future

A headshot of David Ginty against a blurred background
David Ginty, the Edward R. and Anne G. Lefler Professor of Neurobiology, recently became the seventh chair of the department. Image: Rick Groleau

As the leader of a busy research lab devoted to studying the sense of touch, becoming chair of the Department of Neurobiology was not part of David Ginty’s initial plans.

However, after nearly a decade at HMS, Ginty has gained deep knowledge about the ins and outs of the department and the School while forging close connections and collaborations with many of his fellow faculty. So when chair Michael Greenberg, the HMS Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology and Ginty’s former postdoctoral advisor, decided to step down to focus more fully on his research, Ginty stepped up.

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“It’s an exciting time for the field of neuroscience, and the neurobiology department at HMS is poised to make considerable advances in the coming years,” Ginty said. “Having been here for a long time, I thought I was in a good position to help move the department forward into the future.”

In a conversation with Harvard Medicine News, Ginty, the Edward R. and Anne G. Lefler Professor of Neurobiology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, shared his vision for the neurobiology department.

Harvard Medicine News: Why is this such an exciting time in the field of neuroscience?

Ginty: To start with some history, neurobiology as a discipline has its roots here at HMS, starting in the 1950s and 1960s. Stephen Kuffler, our founding chair, established the department in 1966. It was the first neurobiology department in the country. The idea at that time was that this new discipline would bring together scientists with expertise and interest in different areas — physiology, anatomy, microscopy, cell biology — to study the organ system that makes us who we are: the nervous system and the brain. That was a really visionary step in the biomedical sciences.

Today, as we develop new, more complex technologies to study neuroscience, we have a convergence of approaches that is making the field even more compelling than it was in 1966. We are using advanced methods in physiology, imaging, molecular biology, and microscopy to study how genes and neuron types shape nervous system function, connections between nerve cells in the nervous system, and underlying developmental mechanisms.

We have new techniques such as optogenetics and chemogenetics that allow us to manipulate neurons using light and chemicals. Computational approaches, which are becoming an increasingly integral part of our research, enable us to analyze large datasets and study the brain in many new ways. Much of the technology is being developed in our department and across the University.