Basic Sciences Division

Division Leadership

Director, Jonathan Cooper, PhD

Jonathan Cooper, Director Basic Sciences Division

Dr. Jonathan Cooper is director of the Basic Sciences Division and an affiliate professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington.

Cooper is an expert in the signaling pathways that allow cells to communicate with each other – pathways that play a critical role in the transformation of normal cells into cancer cells. By unraveling how this transformation occurs, Cooper’s research could contribute to therapies that prevent malignancy.

His lab studies members of the Src protein family to understand how they regulate the behavior of normal cells and how they contribute to malignancy. Over the years, the Cooper Lab pinpointed mechanisms that regulate Src, showed that growth factors bring complexes of signaling proteins together and discovered that two human onco proteins, Ras and Raf, bind to each other.

The study of Src and related enzymes, called tyrosine kinases, is important because they are known to aid the development of certain cancers. In fact, roughly a dozen anticancer drugs are now used to inhibit these enzymes and, in many cases, slow cancer’s progression.

More recently, Cooper and his colleagues revealed how cells migrate in the developing brain. This could help scientists understand how other types of cells, including cancer cells, travel throughout the body.

As director of the Fred Hutch’s Basic Sciences Division, which has made some of the Hutch’s most important breakthroughs, Cooper uses his experience to help researchers work toward discoveries in a variety of areas.

“The Basic Sciences Division’s agenda is to do cutting-edge research into whatever seems relevant, without putting firm constraints on the direction it might go,” Cooper said. “My job is to put creative people together and give them the resources and liberty to follow their instincts. I marvel at the great work they do.”

Associate Director, Sue Biggins, PhD

Sue Biggens, Associate Director Basic Sciences Division

Dr. Sue Biggins is associate director of the Basic Sciences Division and an affiliate professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington. 

Biggins studies the machinery that dividing cells use to ensure their daughter cells receive the correct allotment of chromosomes. Getting it right is crucial: cells with too many or too few chromosomes can cause cancer, birth defects, or miscarriage.

Much of Biggins's Lab focuses on kinetochores, structures that connect chromosomes to the long, thin microtubules that tug them to the appropriate ends of a dividing cell. She has shed light on how cells make sure that these structures – which comprise hundreds of proteins and must be reassembled every time a cell divides – are positioned in the right spot on chromosomes. She also showed how a protein called Aurora B forces cells to stop and fix things if microtubules are incorrectly attached to a kinetochore, before cell division can proceed.

In 2010, Biggins purified kinetochores from yeast cells and reconstituted their attachments to microtubules for the first time. Suddenly, a variety of questions became accessible. Her first success with the system was the surprising finding that tension helps stabilize microtubules' attachment to kinetochore. Electron microscopy images of the purified kinetochores revealed the structures' shape for the first time. The images showed that each kinetochore has multiple microtubule attachment sites and a ring that encircles the microtubule, which helps explain how they establish and maintain their grip.

As associate director for the Basic Sciences Division, Biggins works with Jonathan Cooper to ensure researchers have the support and tools they need to pursue their scientific endeavors.

Senior Operations Director, Sara Zriny, MBA

Sara Zriny, Basic Sciences Senior Operations Director

Sara Zriny is the Senior Operations Director for Basic Sciences.  She oversees day-to-day and long-range strategic planning, financial planning, administrative and human resource operations for the Division.