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UAlbany RNA Institute Recruits Researchers from Harvard and University of Manchester

Investigators Join Two Newly Appointed Program and Financial Management Administrators

New to The RNA Institute are, left to right, Ken Halvorsen, Maria Basanta Sanchez, Lisset Drislane and Taryn Davila-Webster. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)

[Editor's Note: Media seeking individual head shots of the new RNA Institute hires may contact Media Relations at 956-8150]

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 17, 2013) – The RNA Instituteat the University at Albany announces the addition of two senior research scientists to support its collaborative RNA research efforts to combat the most difficult of human diseases. Ken Halvorsen and Maria Basanta Sanchez join The RNA Institute from Harvard Medical School and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, respectively.

In addition, the Institute has appointed two program and financial management administrators. Taryn Davila-Webster joins the Institute as grant program manager and Lisset Drislane joins as financial program coordinator.

“The RNA Institute now serves a community of more than 50 associated and affiliated research laboratories with nearly 350 researchers. While many are at UAlbany or the Capital Region, some hail from San Francisco to Boston,” said The RNA Institute Director Paul Agris. “Our new senior research scientists provide this large community the quality of support expected of New York’s national RNA research resource, while our new administrators will play a critical role in implementing further collaborations and grant submissions among the research laboratories and our growing corporate partnerships.”

Ken Halvorsen will serve as lab manager for the Institute’s advanced instrumentation facility. Working with academic and industrial affiliates, he will develop new technologies for RNA research, manage the lab facilities, and provide equipment training. Halvorsen brings a decade of single-molecule biophysics expertise and a proven track record of creating technologies and experiments to investigate biology at the nanoscale level, with his work to date resulting in twelve publications and four pending patents. He served as a postdoctoral fellow and research associate at Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the Rowland Institute at Harvard University. He earned his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Boston University and his BS in mechanical engineering and physics from Clarkson University.

Maria Basanta Sanchez will serve as senior research scientist for the advanced instrumentation facility. Sanchez will identify and characterize RNA modifications using mass spectrometry and complementary biophysical technologies to develop innovative instrument capabilities and methods for RNA applications. She will also formulate public-private partnerships with the RNA community to advance technology for RNA therapeutics. Sanchez served as a research associate for the Waters Corporation, a top mass spectrometry instrument manufacturer, and was also a research scientist at The RNA Institute’s Mass Spectrometry Center. Her work has resulted in eight internationally recognized publications and two international patents. She earned her BS and MS in chemistry and her Ph.D. in analytical chemistry at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in Manchester, U.K.

Davila-Webster will administer programs that support the Institute’s mission and vision, including the Interdisciplinary Pilot Research Program, Student Venture Fund, Travel Award Program, and Entrepreneurship Seminar series. She is also responsible for the development and implementation of the Institute’s marketing and communications strategy. A Certified Government Audit Professional with the Certification in Risk Management Assurance, Davila-Webster had a 14-year career in New York State government as a risk management associate with the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General, and as an auditor of state-wide programs for the office of the State Comptroller. She earned her MS in public administration from Sage Graduate School and a BA in English and legal studies from Russell Sage College.

Drislane will handle a wide range of administrative, financial, marketing and promotional needs, specializing in purchasing, financial management, events and travel coordination, human resources coordination, and web site redesign and content management. She has worked in similar roles at UAlbany’s Center for Technology in Government and for the Child Support Enforcement unit of the Professional Development Program. Drislane earned her BS in business administration from Universidad Privada Antenor Orrego, Peru.

“The Institute’s unprecedented growth over the past three years continues to attract top-notch scientists from leading institutions such as Harvard, MIT, NYU, Stanford, and RPI,” said Agris. “Our new researchers provide the necessary expertise in instrumentation and approaches that are specific to RNA science, technology development, and novel drug discovery.”

The University recently unveiled a new 15,000 square foot facility, which will further enable the Institute to collaborate on investigative efforts into designing RNA technologies and drug therapies for the treatment of such diseases as cancer, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, and ALS. The new space has been built upon an “open source” model, where leading researchers from around the globe to share ideas, knowledge and tools that will showcase the value of RNA research to the future of medicine.

The Institute has also assembled a scientific advisory board with Nobel Laureates and National Academy of Sciences members; and partnered with global corporations on student venture programs, computational equipment acquisitions and rare online molecular libraries.

The RNA Institute now boasts several public private partnerships with institutions such as Albany Medical College and RPI, as well as major global corporations, Sigma-Aldrich and ThermoFisher Scientific; in addition to research collaborations with more than 50 laboratories encompassing 350 researchers. These partnerships have yielded industry-leading computational equipment, an expansive RNA molecule library, and student venture partnerships that are spawning the commercialization of new technologies.