‘Keep people going’: UC Berkeley researchers appointed as investigators

mug composite of Diana Bautista, David Savage and Gregory Barton
Researchers from left to right: Diana Bautista, David Savage and Gregory Barton.

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UC Berkeley professor Gregory Barton spends hours studying the immune system and autoimmune disease, while campus professor Diana Bautista focuses on deciphering the relationship between the nervous and immune systems.

Appointed as investigators with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Barton and Bautista will receive financial support for their research, according to a campus press release. The two join campus associate professor David Savage as three of 33 investigators announced Thursday.

“I feel really fortunate, it’s something I had hoped would happen someday but never imagined that it would,” Barton said. “It makes me feel really gratified and it’s a recognition of all the amazing people that have worked in my lab. … We have a large number of investigators and it blows my mind actually.”

Barton recognized the importance of the work done by researchers in his lab and said he immediately emailed them, noting that it was an “award for all of them.”

Bautista echoed the sentiments and said the award reflects the work of the scientists in her lab and all that she has accomplished with her collaborators.

As part of the appointment, investigators will receive funding from the institute over a seven-year term. The money will help finance staff salaries, equipment and hiring, according to Bautista.

Barton added that the support would help reduce the amount of grants he has to write, which is one of the main sources of funds for Barton and his team.

“My goal is to put together a creative and diverse group of trainees and ask really some tough questions in science,” Bautista said. “We will take some risks in science and look at taking high risk and high reward approaches and gaining a new physiological understanding of the interaction between these systems.”

To appoint investigators, the institute must determine that the people in question “forge links” between human health and biology and lead research into new areas, according to David Clapham, the institute’s vice president and chief scientific officer.

Clapham added that funding for investigators comes from investment returns on the institute’s endowment.

Barton pointed out how the high number of investigators from UC Berkeley reflects the “excellence” of campus’s faculty and students. Of the approximately 250 investigators appointed across the nation, 22 are campus researchers.

With the funding, both Barton and Bautista plan to push their work forward and provide support for graduate and postdoctoral researchers in their labs.

For Barton, the funding will help “keep people going.”

“We believe that giving talented scientists the resources to do their best work can take us in directions we never anticipated – in some cases, treating and curing diseases in ways that dramatically reduce human suffering,” Clapham said in an email.

Contact Aditya Katewa at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @adkatewa1.