At MIT, Feng becomes a McGovern Investigator and a tenured professor in BCS, where he is the first holder of the Poitras Professorship of Neuroscience, established by James '63 and Patricia Poitras to support research on major psychiatric disorders. Feng is also an associate member of the Broad Institute.
The main focus of Feng's research is the function of synapses and their disruption in psychiatric disorders. In a 2007 paper, Feng showed that mice lacking a synaptic protein known as SAPAP3 develop obsessive grooming behavior that strongly resembles human obsessive-compulsive disorder. More recently, he has found that loss of another synaptic protein known as Shank, leads to repetitive behaviors and social abnormalities reminiscent of autism. He plans to continue this work at MIT, using the tools of mouse genetics to dissect the synaptic and circuit-level deficits that underlie these behaviors.
"Our long-term goal is to understand psychiatric disease at the level of brain mechanisms," Feng explains. "At present, these diseases are very poorly understood in biological terms, and there is an urgent need for better animal models. Only by studying animals can we hope to understand the fundamental mechanisms that will lead to new therapies."
Feng is joined at MIT by 14 members of his lab from Duke. "We are still unpacking, but we are ready to do our first simple experiments," he says.
Originally from Zhejiang Province in China, Feng received his PhD from SUNY Buffalo. He was a postdoctoral fellow with Joshua Sanes at Washington University School of Medicine, before joining the faculty of Duke University in 2000. He has won numerous awards, including the Beckman Young Investigator Award (2002), the McKnight Neuroscience of Brain Disorders Award (2006), and the Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award (2006).