About the Director

Douglas Robinson, Ph.D., Director

Douglas Robinson is a professor in the Department of Cell Biology who investigates how cells form the shapes required for the specialized functions necessary for human function and health.  His lab’s program is designed to decipher cellular morphogenesis from molecular and biophysical perspectives and to identify fundamental principles relevant for healthy and disease states.  To do this, his lab uses models and systems that span a billion years in evolution from the simple amoeba Dictyostelium to human systems and diseases, specifically pancreatic cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  His lab then seeks to leverage their knowledge to identify and develop small molecule modulators (possible future drugs) of cell morphogenesis.  The first compound shows promise in animal models of metastatic pancreatic cancer and is now close to entering the preclinical phase.

Doug’s lab developed SARE after he and his wife began volunteering for Boys Hope Girls Hope, Baltimore (BHGH).  Initially, Doug’s wife, Lisa Naeger, thought that it was time for his family to contribute to the community in a bigger way.  After Lisa heard former BHGH director Chuck Roth interviewed on NPR, she encouraged the family to get involved with BHGH and they began by taking Sunday dinner to the Boys Hope house; at the time, the Girls Hope house had not yet been built. Through these dinners, the BHGH scholars were very interested in working as summer interns in the labs at Hopkins.  Doug found resources to hire two scholars for the first summer.  After a summer, it became very apparent to Doug and his lab personnel, particularly Cathy Kabacoff (a retired middle school teacher and research associate), that there was a real opportunity to impact this group of students in a significant way, but to do so, would require a significant commitment.  For the next year, Doug, Cathy, doctoral student Vasudha Srivastava, postdoctoral fellow Alexandra Surcel and doctoral student Hoku West-Foyle (and most of the lab) put their heads together to develop SARE.  Initially supported by the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology and the School of Medicine, SARE has continued to evolve over the next several years until it has become what it currently is, which is a well-developed outreach initiative that has profound impact on the scholars’ careers.  The broad Johns Hopkins Initiative for Careers in Science and Medicine has now grown up out of SARE, and the entire initiative seeks to support and help at least 80 scholars annually from 5th grade through post-baccalaureate levels build the accomplishments that will help them achieve professional careers, with a particular eye towards biomedical, medical, health-related, and STEM professions.