Skip to main content

Elaine A. Ostrander, Ph.D.

Elaine A. Ostrander
Chief & NIH Distinguished Investigator
Cancer Genetics and Comparative Genomics Branch

Comparative Genetics Section

B.S. University of Washington, 1981
Ph.D. Oregon Health Sciences University, 1987

T: (301) 594-5284
F: (301) 594-0023
Building 50, Room 5351
50 SOUTH DR, MSC 8000
BETHESDA, MD 20892-8000

Selected Publications

The NHGRI Dog Genome Project

The Ostrander lab seeks to identify genes that control both normal and abnormal growth. For many of these studies the group takes advantage of naturally occurring populations of dog, which show extraordinary variation across the 175 breeds recognized by U.S. breeders. Thus far, the research group has found genes that control variation in body size, leg length, skull shape and fur type. Many of these are genes were previously thought to be understood, but their complexity are only now beginning to be appreciated. To do these studies, the lab has sequenced the genome of several dog breeds, providing information about how breeds relate to one another, as well as how and when dogs were domesticated.

The studies involve collecting DNA samples, health histories and pedigrees from pet dogs. As dogs age and develop diseases that are of interest to humans - such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease - the research group works to identify the underlying genetic cause. With collaborators, they have observed that certain diseases occur with unusually high frequency in small numbers of breeds, suggesting strong genetic underpinnings. Thus far the group has played a role in finding genes for retinitis pigmentosum, epilepsy, kidney cancer, soft tissue sarcomas and squamous cell cancers. In each case, they have been able to contribute to both the veterinary and human literature, as the genes causing disease in dogs are often the same or related to ones causing disease in humans.

Her lab is also very interested in studying human prostate cancer. There currently is not a good naturally occurring animal model for this disorder. It is, however, one of the most common cancers in men, with about 29,400 men expected to die of the disease this year, and more than 230,000 men receiving a diagnosed. Researchers in the lab are working to find genes that make men more susceptible to prostate cancer, particularly aggressive forms of the disease. Finding these genes will allow early diagnosis and treatment. Also, once risk factors are known, genetic tests can be developed to help men, with their physicians, understand their disease risk. Finally, understanding what causes prostate cancer is a necessary first step in developing targeted treatments.


Dr. Elaine Ostrander is chief of the Cancer Genetics and Comparative Genomics Branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute of NIH. She also heads the Section of Comparative Genetics. Dr. Ostrander received her Ph.D. from the Oregon Health Sciences University, and did her postdoctoral training at Harvard. She then went to UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, where, with collaborators, she began the canine genome project, and built the canine linkage and radiation hybrid maps. She was at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington for 12 years, rising to the rank of member in the Human Biology and Clinical Research Divisions, and head of the Genetics Program.  She moved to NIH in 2004. 

Dr. Ostrander's lab at NIH works in both human and canine genetics.  Her lab is using state of the art genomic approaches to identify prostate cancer susceptibility genes. She is best known, though, for her studies of the domestic dog as a well-phenotyped species with an extensively documented population structure that offers unique opportunities for solving fundamental biological problems. Her lab developed the primary genomic mapping resources for the canine genetics field, and applied them to studies of disease and morphology.  For instance, she and her collaborators were the first to map genes for canine epilepsy, Addison's disease, kidney, squamous cell and histiocytic cancers. All are now candidates for comparable human disorders. In recent years, Ostrander's experiments have revealed how modifications in small numbers of genes produce the enormous differences in canine body shape and size that characterize the spectrum of breeds.

Dr. Ostrander has published over 285 papers. She has won multiple awards including the American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Award, Burroughs Welcome Award for Functional Genomics, Asa Mays Award, Lifetime Achievement Awards for both her prostate cancer and canine genetics work, and in the 2013 Genetics Society of America Medal.

Scientific Summary

Top of page

Last Updated: January 6, 2015