Member profile: Casper Hoogenraad

Casper Hoogenraad

Casper Hoogenraad

Casper Hoogenraad, Vice President and the Head of Neuroscience Research at Genentech in South San Francisco, will become the new industry representative on the ASCB Council in 2021. He is quick to remind you, however, that he is first and foremost a basic scientist and cell biologist.

In 2017 Hoogenraad joined Genentech where he continues his basic research and hopes to leverage the company’s knowledge in drug discovery to translate his basic research findings into potential therapies for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. He is also a tenured professor of cell biology at Utrecht University in The Netherlands who recognizes that strong collaborations between basic research and industry are crucial to translating groundbreaking science into transformative therapeutics for the benefit of patients.

“The biotech industry is largely focused on developing medicines for people with serious and life-threatening diseases, but there is so much in basic science that is needed in this process,” he said. “The fundamental discoveries made by scientists both in academia and biotech have been essential to discover and develop new drugs.”

Hoogenraad’s own research sits at the crossroads of cell biology and neuroscience, specifically focused on mechanisms underlying cytoskeleton dynamics and intracellular trafficking that support the development and function of brain cells. “The brain comprises many different cell types, and there is still so much we can discover about their cellular functions and interactions,” he said.

For example, he’s currently exploring how brain cells found in people with Alzheimer’s disease differ from normal brain cells and determining which basic biological processes underlie the initial stages of neurodegeneration. He’s also looking into the interactions of neurons and glia cells of the brain to see how they contribute to neurodegenerative diseases, hoping to one day image them in more physiologically relevant settings, such as in animal models and human brain organoids.

Hoogenraad joined ASCB when he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology nearly 20 years ago. “Before I started my PhD, I was trained in biochemistry and molecular biology,” he said. “The ASCB meeting was always so fascinating and opened my eyes to the world of cell biology. I learned so much.”

Now he says he hopes to make an even greater impact as the Council industry representative. Hoogenraad stresses the importance of coordination between basic science and industry. By working together, he said, “scientists can do what they do best—focus on basic research, discovery, and innovation—and industry can do what it does best: develop medicines.” In that sense, Genentech is the prime example that this concept works. “The company has long rivaled the world’s leading academic centers in commitment to basic research with the singular goal of making transformative drugs,” he added. As a Council member, he will be working to create more opportunities for basic science researchers to work with the biotech industry.

In addition, the mentorship of young scientists will remain another important area of focus for Hoogenraad. Through his laboratory at Genentech, Hoogenraad offers a postdoctoral mentoring program where those engaged in genetics and biochemical and biophysical investigations can conduct academic research while learning about the drug development process.

Although he’s been studying and working in the United States for many years, Hoogenraad says he views himself as a “typically” Dutch. “I like riding bicycles; I love flowers, especially tulips; and I like cheese,” he laughed.

If you’re interested in learning more about Casper Hoogenraad’s research, you can check out this Genentech podcast about neurons featuring a conversation with him: www.gene.com/stories/the-polarizing-world-of-neurons.

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Mary Spiro is ASCB's Science Writer and Social Media Manager.