Rose F. Kennedy Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center

Legacy Series: Gary J. Bassell Ph.D.

Gary J. Bassell Ph.D.
Department of Cell Biology
Department of Neurology
Emory University School of Medicine


Dr. Gary Bassell is a Professor in the Departments of Cell Biology and Neurology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Before moving to Emory in 2005, Dr. Bassell served on the faculty at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine for ten years, where his lab was first established in the Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology (1995-1998) and subsequently relocated to the Department of Neuroscience and Rose F. Kennedy Center (1998-2005). Gary received his Ph.D. degree in Cell Biology from the University of Massachusetts Medical School working in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Singer, who is the current chair of Anatomy at Einstein. Gary went on to do a postdoctoral fellowship in Dr. Kenneth Kosik’s lab at the Center for Neurological Diseases of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Gary has been a recipient of several awards that include the Basal O’Connor Scholar Award from the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, the Irma Hirschl Career Scientist Award, the Dana Foundation Award in Brain Imaging, Autism Speaks Trailblazer Award and a NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Award. His laboratory has been studying the mechanisms of mRNA transport and local protein synthesis in neurons, and dysfunction of mRNA regulation in fragile x syndrome and other neurologic diseases. More recently, his laboratory has been pursuing development of therapeutic strategies to correct for impairments in mRNA translation and protein synthesis in mouse models of disease and human patient cells.


Q: What was your experience here in the Kennedy Center like as a faculty member?
A: I have really fond memories of my experience at the Kennedy Center. I was welcomed and supported by a collegial group of faculty who consistently provided intellectual guidance, technical support, research collaboration and mentorship. The foundation of my lab’s current major interests in fragile x syndrome is deeply rooted in early ideas and experiments that began at the Kennedy Center.


Q: Are there one or two faculty and other individuals who were/are in the Kennedy Center who really stood out in their influence over your career?
A: I have tremendous gratitude to the faculty leadership at the Kennedy Center and Department of Neuroscience that supported my relocation/recruitment in 1998, namely Dean Purpura, Jack Kessler and Joseph Arezzo. To name two faculty who really stood out, our success would not have been possible without the sustained support, mentorship and guidance provided by Don Faber, who became chair of neuroscience. Notably, we would not be working on fragile x syndrome if it were not for the guidance and mentorship of Dr. Steven Walkley, who is now Director of the Kennedy Center/IDDRC. In 1998, shortly before my move to Kennedy, Steve invited me to attend a small conference at the NIH, sponsored by NICHD, on Dendritic Mechanisms in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Dean Purpura gave an inspiring plenary introduction on the history and rationale for the study of dendritic dysfunction. I had a chance to meet leading neuroscientists with interests in this field and started thinking about ideas for possible experiments. Steve was instrumental in encouraging us to perform the first pilot experiment on the Fragile X Mental Retardation protein, FMRP, which was done by Laura Antar, a most talented MD/PhD student, whose impressive dissertation led to our first publication. The intellectual and collegial interactions with Laura, other students and postdocs, as well as collaborators, all played huge roles in shaping the growth and direction of the lab. Outside of Kennedy, Dr. Rob Singer has played a huge role in my career growth. I have had the great fortune of being his student and colleague. I am indebted for his support, guidance and mentorship.


Q: Were there components of the Kennedy Center program or environment that had particular influence on your career path?
A: The NICHD MRDDRC (now IDDRC) provided state of the art core facilities that greatly benefited our research. I was fortunate for the opportunity to play a supportive role as director of an image analysis core. The tremendous breadth of research interests in the Department of Neuroscience, particularly in the area of synaptic mechanisms and plasticity, helped to shape the ideas and direction of our lab. Also, the interface of the department with the center provided a unique environment and infrastructure. I had great faculty colleagues, and benefited from productive collaborations and intellectual interactions in a collegial environment.


Q: What influenced you the most in terms of staying connected to the intellectual and developmental disabilities field?
A: I left Einstein with mixed feelings, as I was truly very happy and our lab was on a growth trajectory. As I mentioned above, the foundation of our lab’s ideas and goals were developed through the supportive environment at Kennedy, which facilitated my career path in this field. As motivating as the science has been, I have been deeply influenced by relationships and interactions with families and affected individuals.


Q: From all your experiences here at Einstein and the Kennedy Center, what do you think was the greatest influence/contribution toward your current position and career?
A: It's a combination of people and the environment. The greatest influences on anyone’s career are the people to interact with and formulate ideas together, but one needs a supportive environment, resources and infrastructure to make scientific progress. As said, I have been so fortunate to have great mentors, colleagues and trainees, while at Einstein and Kennedy, which shaped my current position and direction of my lab at Emory.

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