Professor Gutmann received his undergraduate, graduate (PhD), and medical (MD) degrees from the University of Michigan, where he trained in immunogenetics under the mentorship of Dr. John Niederhuber. During his residency in Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, he worked with Dr. Kenneth Fischbeck who sparked his interest in neurogenetics. He then returned to the University of Michigan for research fellowship training in Human Genetics with Dr. Francis Collins. During this time, he identified the neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) protein and began to elucidate its function as a RAS regulator. In late 1993, he was recruited to Washington University, becoming a full professor in 2001 and the Donald O. Schnuck Family Professor in 2002. He established the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Neurofibromatosis Clinical Program in 1994 and the Washington University Neurofibromatosis Center in 2004. His laboratory is currently focused on understanding the genomic, molecular and cellular basis for nervous system problems affecting children and adults with NF1 using both human biospecimens and novel genetically-engineered mouse strains. Over the past 20 years, his team has developed numerous mouse models of NF1-associated optic glioma, somatic growth defects, attention deficit, autism, plexiform neurofibroma, and spatial learning impairments as well as NF2-associated meningioma. They have used these preclinical models to define the cellular origins of tumors, the contribution of the tumor microenvironment, and the major growth control pathways that underlie nervous system dysfunction in NF. He has published over 400 peer-reviewed manuscripts, and has been recognized for his achievements with numerous awards, including the 2012 Children’s Tumor Foundation Frederich von Recklinghausen Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2013 Washington University Distinguished Faculty Research Award, the 2014 Riley Church Lectureship, and the 2017 Alexander von Humboldt Award. He also serves as a member of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Advisory Council.
Microglia: The Brain’s Gardeners
At the Max Delbrück Center, Einstein BIH Visiting Fellow David Gutmann wants to understand how immune system-like cells in the brain, called microglia, cause cancer, vision loss, and behavioral problems. Gutmann and his graduate student team in Professor Helmut Kettenmann’s laboratory will perform these studies using both genetically-engineered mice and human skin-derived stem cells that model the Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), a common condition in which children and adults develop brain tumors, vision loss, learning and attention deficits, and autism.
What excites me as a scientist?
For the past 25 years, I have cared for children and adults with Neurofibromatosis, a set of common genetic conditions, in which affected individuals are prone to the development of learning and behavioral deficits, brain and nerve tumors, bone and heart defects, autism, hearing and vision loss, and other cancers. While we have learned much about the NF genes and their function, we currently cannot predict what medical problems will arise in any given person with NF, whether they will progress, and how best to tailor our treatments to that specific individual. As a practicing physician, I am driven to use basic laboratory and translational research to unravel the complexities of these disorders relevant to personalized (precision) medicine approaches. The goal of our research at Washington University and at the Max Delbrück Center is to define the factors that make each person with NF unique, and to leverage these insights to develop better predictive strategies and treatment options, not only for people with NF, but also for those with related disorders.
Photo: Robert Boston