5 Top Researchers
Steven D. Tanksley
Steven W. Squyres
Barbara A. Baird
Shahin Rafii
Watt W. Webb
Cornell University
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At Cornell

Barbara A. Baird
Having A Framework

Barbara A. Baird

A Search for Answers

Barbara Baird Chemistry and Chemical Biology Nanobiotechnology CenterHow do cells respond to external stimuli? How does a molecular signal from the outside engage a cell surface receptor, and how does that cause the cell to respond? This is my research. I like to have a framework in which to think about a problem and to hang pieces of information from that framework as they become available. I start with what I know—with an idea or reasonable explanation about how a system works. As I get more information I change the idea so that it becomes consistent with the information. If I see that the framework really isn’t the right one, then I adjust it. This is what science is: trying to figure out how things work.

Take our work in immunology. We study the cell surface receptor involved in the allergic immune response. An allergen triggers an allergic reaction by engaging the receptor. This initiates transmembrane signaling, which causes the cells to respond. The cells degranulate to release histamine and other mediators that cause the allergic reaction.

Most people can relate to allergies. I explain that the very fundamental basis of allergies comes from cells that release histamines causing allergic reactions. If we can understand well enough how this works, then we can help in the development of a drug that can prevent it at the initial stage rather than treating the symptoms. Current antihistamines, for example, have side effects. That’s because they may be hitting the target, but they’re hitting other components as well. As we know the system in greater detail, we can offer more precise treatments to replace drugs that cause drowsiness or other secondary responses.


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