2011 Release: NIH genome institute announces key leadership appointments

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National Human Genome Research Institute
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NIH genome institute announces key leadership appointments

Mark S. Guyer named deputy director; James C. Mullikin to direct intramural sequencing center

Dr. James C. Mullikin (left) and Dr. Mark S. Guyer

Bethesda, Md., Wed., Sept. 7, 2011 — The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), announced the appointment of two senior staff to key leadership positions in the NIH institute best known for leading the Human Genome Project.

Mark S. Guyer, Ph.D., currently director of NHGRI's Division of Extramural Research, becomes only the third deputy director of the institute, which was originally founded in 1988 as an office to lead NIH's portion of the effort to sequence the human genome for the first time.

James C. Mullikin, Ph.D., currently acting director of the NIH Intramural Sequencing Center (NISC), has been selected to be the center's permanent director. NHGRI created NISC in 1997 to develop its own genome sequencing capabilities and to collaborate with other NIH intramural researchers.

"I am delighted to have Drs. Guyer and Mullikin become critical parts of the institute's leadership team," said NHGRI Director Eric D. Green, M.D., Ph.D. "In February, NHGRI published a new strategic plan for genomics research. These outstanding scientific leaders will help make that new vision a reality."

Guyer: From the beginning

Mark S. Guyer, Ph.D.
Mark S. Guyer, Ph.D.
As NHGRI's deputy director, Dr. Guyer will play a key role in implementing the institute's new strategic plan, the fifth one that he has helped develop in his 23 years at NHGRI.

Referring to Dr. Guyer's understanding of genomics combined with extensive institutional knowledge, Dr. Green added, "For many years, he has provided outstanding leadership of the rapidly expanding portfolio of research activities in our institute's extramural program. In his new role, he will help ensure that NHGRI continues to make seminal contributions to genomics and its application to biomedical research and medicine."

In helping to guide implementation of the new strategic plan, Dr. Guyer will work to balance the institute's ongoing commitment to basic genomic research, including developing new technologies for sequencing and analyzing genomes, with NHGRI's commitment to expanding the use of genomic knowledge in medical care. Success will require overcoming numerous hurdles as genomic information accumulates at an ever-increasing pace.

"Genomics is becoming much more data-driven, which requires new approaches for data management, storage and transfer and for overseeing the scientific community's access to the data," Dr. Guyer said. "However, these are just some of the challenges we will face as we use genomics to advance human health."

The science of genomics has changed dramatically since Dr. Guyer joined what was then called the NIH Office for Human Genome Research in 1988. With a Ph.D. in bacteriology and immunology, Dr. Guyer said he couldn't pass up the opportunity to work for James D. Watson, Ph.D., an icon of modern biology and the office's first director. Watson, an American molecular biologist, shared the 1962 Nobel Prize with British physicists Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins for the discovery of the double helical structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).

Dr. Guyer has served in many capacities during the evolution of the organization from office to center to institute and has participated in all phases of NHGRI's scientific activities, from genome sequencing to the creation of the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications program. The institute's extramural program that Dr. Guyer currently directs annually distributes more than $350 million in research and training grants and cooperative agreements, and plans a wide range of scientific activities to advance genomics, including studying the societal implications of genomics research.

Mullikin: The master assembler

James C. Mullikin, Ph.D.
James C. Mullikin, Ph.D.
Dr. Mullikin will pick up the baton of NISC director passed from NHGRI Director Green, who founded the multidisciplinary genome sequencing center 14 years ago. Dr. Mullikin has been with NISC since 2003, and for the past two years, has served as acting director of the center during a time of rapid changes in genome sequencing technologies. He is also an associate investigator in NHGRI's Genome Technology Branch and is head of the Comparative Genomics Unit.

"Jim Mullikin is the ideal choice to champion the broad scientific portfolio of the NIH Intramural Sequencing Center, which is one of NHGRI's premiere research assets," said NHGRI Scientific Director Daniel Kastner, M.D., Ph.D. "Dr. Mullikin brings a comprehensive experiential and academic background to NISC, taking on the wealth of basic and clinical research initiatives already underway and planning for the genomic contributions that this center will be making well into the future."

Dr. Mullikin is a computational biologist, with mastery of developing computer programs for analyzing large data sets generated by systematic genome-analysis projects. He has designed specialized software that biologists use to interpret the billions of data points generated by various genomic methods.

Under Dr. Mullikin's leadership, NISC has begun to apply genome sequencing technologies to clinical research, especially with its largest project, called ClinSeq, for which NISC has generated more than 500 whole-exome sequences to date. Whole-genome sequencing generates the order of all three billion chemical components in a genome, while whole-exome sequencing targets the 1 to 2 percent of a person's genome that codes for proteins. ClinSeq is exploring the technical and medical issues that accompany large-scale genome sequencing in the context of clinical research and medical care.

Prior to joining NHGRI in 2003, Dr. Mullikin worked at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom for five years where he led the production informatics department. His group developed sample and data tracking systems, automated sequence-assembly tools for the Human Genome Project and sequence variation analysis methods for the SNP Consortium Project and the International Haplotype Map Project. During his final six months at the Sanger Institute, he was the acting director of informatics.

Dr. Mullikin holds a Ph.D. in physics, with a focus on image and signal processing, from Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands. He earned bachelor and Master of Science degrees in electrical engineering from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. In Feb. 2011, he was among a team of co-authors of an article in the journal Science awarded the Newcomb Cleveland Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The prize recognizes the journal's best article of the previous year: A Draft Sequence of the Neanderthal Genome.

NHGRI is one of the 27 institutes and centers at the NIH, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. The NHGRI Division of Extramural Research supports grants for research and training and career development at sites nationwide. The NHGRI Division of Intramural Research develops and implements technology to understand, diagnose and treat genomic and genetic diseases. Additional information about NHGRI can be found at its website, www.genome.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 institutes and centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

Contact:

Raymond MacDougall
National Human Genome Research Institute
301-402-0911
macdougallr@mail.nih.gov

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Posted: September 7, 2011