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Personal Persuasion

J. Andrew Berglund, at home in one of the labs of The RNA Institute in the Life Sciences Research Building. (Photos by Patrick Dodson)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Sept. 11, 2018) — Nothing impresses more than remarkable people. For the University committee seeking a new RNA Institute director, this fact made the ultimate offer of the post to J. Andrew Berglund a clear one. In turn, the Institute's repository of talented researchers was a selling point for any candidate.

“I was aware of The RNA Institute for several years before the director’s position opened up because scientists from the institute had given impressive presentations at national meetings,” said Berglund, who noted he had read several excellent publications by institute scientists as well. On Aug. 30, he was named director and also a full professor in Biological Sciences and a SUNY Professor of Empire Innovation.

Berglund comes to UAlbany from the University of Florida, where his research into the role of RNA in biology was amply supported by grants from federal agencies — including the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health (NIH) — as well as private foundations. His particular interests are in elucidating the molecular mechanisms of neuromuscular diseases with the goal of translating fundamental findings into new therapeutic strategies.

Along with advancing his own research, Berglund has worked diligently with student researchers. He served as graduate school associate dean and interim dean at the University of Oregon, before going to Florida, where he was recruited as a preeminence professor in the College of Medicine and served as director of sequencing and informatics in its Center for NeuroGenetics.

Edelgard Wulfert, dean of Arts and Sciences, said that Berglund was a superb choice to succeed the institute’s founding director, Paul Agris, who retired in August. “I am delighted to welcome Dr. Berglund as a SUNY Empire Innovation Professor to our campus. He is not only a superb scientist, but also has a long history of training the next generation of scientists, and he is especially dedicated to attracting and retaining underrepresented minority students.

“I am confident that under his leadership the institute will advance to its next level of distinction.” Wulfert gave special thanks to both Professor Thomas Begley, who served as interim director of the institute for the past year, and Distinguished Professor Marlene Belfort, who chaired the search committee for the director’s post.

“We’re thrilled to have recruited Andy,” said Belfort. “He’s trained in the best RNA labs in the country, with two Nobel laureates, and is bound to steer the RNA Institute in an inspired way. He has excellent experience mentoring junior scientists, including students, and in forging relationships with industry. We’re lucky to have someone of his caliber to lead the institute into the future.”

Berglund noted that his respect for The RNA Institute increased as he visited the campus and found a “collegial atmosphere” among faculty, staff and students. “The level of collaboration among the labs in the institute and the biology and chemistry departments was impressive. Everyone I interacted with described their desire for The RNA Institute to be successful. I have already heard great ideas and suggestions from staff, students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty for taking the Institute to the next level of success.”

Upon arriving a few weeks ago, Berglund noted, “there is an energy and enthusiasm for RNA research, which has been very welcoming. Several members of the Berglund research group from the University of Florida have been on campus for over a month and labs in the Institute have helped them get their research up and running.”

Several of Berglund’s students and postdoctoral fellows from Florida will be working collaboratively with their UAlbany peers on research that includes investigating the basic mechanisms of one of the most common forms of muscular dystrophy, myotonic dystrophy, and translating these efforts into potential therapies for this debilitating disease.

“We are fortunate to have funding from the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation, Wyck Foundation and NIH to support our research efforts,” he noted.

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