Conversations with Avanti Award Winners: Dr. Jean Schaffer

Posted on April 14, 2021

Jean Schaffer

Avanti established the Avanti Award in Lipids as part of the annual ASBMB/Experimental Biology meeting to recognize an outstanding investigator who has made a significant contribution in the area of lipids.

The 2020/2021 ASBMB Avanti Award in Lipids has been awarded to Dr. Jean Schaffer. Dr. Schaffer received this award for her pioneering work in understanding and preventing lipotoxicity.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I completed my undergraduate and medical degrees and clinical training in medicine and cardiology at Harvard. I then carried out post-doctoral training with Harvey Lodish at the Whitehead Institute at MIT. My first faculty position was at Washington University in St Louis, where my lab began its focus on lipotoxicity and metabolic stress. In late 2019, I was recruited back to Boston. Currently, I am a Senior Investigator and Associate Research Director at the Joslin Diabetes Center and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Did you always envision yourself becoming a scientist? If not, what did you want to be when you grew up? Who influenced you to become a scientist?

I enjoyed the biochemistry curriculum as an undergraduate at Harvard. However, it was my honors thesis experience working with Richard Morimoto in Matthew Meselsohn’s lab that inspired me to pursue science. Medical school and clinical training provided me with the opportunity to learn about human disease and current gaps in knowledge, and my postdoctoral time in the Lodish lab helped me to chart my own independent path in which I could study basic mechanisms that underlie disease.

What motivated you to study lipotoxicity and its role in the pathology of diabetic patients?

I was awed by the devastating complications of diabetes in my patients--complications that affect nearly every organ system and in particular the heart and blood vessels. Nutrients are critical for life, and yet, an excess of glucose or lipid upends normal organ function. I am most curious about how our cells and organs respond to the lipid metabolic environment--not only in disease but also in ways that can be leveraged to optimize physiological function and health.

In one of your recent studies, you explored the connection between small nucleolar RNA and metabolic regulation. What is the ultimate goal of a better understanding of this connection?

We want to understand the pathogenesis of disorders that result from lipid overload in order to design more effective treatments and prevention strategies.

What are your hobbies? What do you like to do outside of the lab?

Outside the lab, I enjoy spending time with my family, playing piano and listening to music, and playing tennis.

What does winning the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Avanti Award in Lipids mean to you?

I am grateful to the Avanti Award Selection Committee. It is a real honor to be included with the luminaries who have previously been selected.

Again, we would like to congratulate Jean Schaffer on her incredible achievements and thank her for taking time to catch up with us!

Click HERE to learn even more about her exciting research!