A Man of Discovery

February 26, 2010

By Myke Folger


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Outstanding Achievement and Innovation in Life Sciences

As daylight broke, Leroy Hood floated gently along the Nile
outside Cairo, in the cradle of one of the oldest civilizations on Earth.

It’s a fitting locale for a man of discovery who was taking
a week off during the first few days of a new decade.

Hood is the founder of Integrated Diagnostics and one of the
founders of the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB). He is generally recognized
as the father of the modern systems biology approach to science. His efforts
have resulted in the discovery of an automated gene sequencer and synthesizer,
a protein sequencer and synthesizer, and an inkjet microarray-technology that
enables the sequencing of the human genome. The human genome unlocks the
digital code of humanity and the sequencer allows scientists to read letters of
the DNA language. What does that mean?

Leroy Hood
Leroy Hood’s systems approach to medicine draws on
the latest technology to tailor treatment to the individual patient.

It means that a decade from now, when you go for your annual
checkup, your doctor may be able to tell you, based on your genetic code,
whether you have a high likelihood of getting lung cancer within five years.
The doctor can then steer you toward a lifestyle and perhaps medicines that
will keep you alive and cancer free. Hood calls that approach the proactive age
of medicine, or P4: Predictive, Personalized, Preventive and Participatory.

“The idea is that you have to get patients, doctors and the
whole medical society together,” Hood says. “It will make medicine an
information science rather than a descriptive science. So, in 10 years, we’ll
have billions of data points on individual patients; sequencing their entire
genome that lets us predict the future of their health history.”

The sequencer took time to get right, Hood says. He worked
for more than three years with an engineering grad student at the California
Institute of Technology, but trying to find a solution from an engineering
perspective got them nowhere. That’s when it occurred to Hood to obtain as many
perspectives as possible on the problem. So, he recruited graduate students and
postdocs in chemistry, molecular biology, computer science and engineering.

“The idea came in one incredibly exciting hour when all of
us [came up with] the idea of putting the four letters of DNA together,” Hood
explains. That cross-disciplinary approach to finding solutions led to the
discoveries in new technology that are the fundamental tools used in P4

Now a firm believer in the benefits of cross-disciplinary
research, Hood lobbied CalTech as well as the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses
of the University of California to develop an interdisciplinary department, but
to no avail. Only after he gave a series of lectures in Seattle did he get some
notable support. Bill Gates attended the talks and was persuaded to support a
new molecular biotechnology department at the University of Washington in 1992.
Hood led the department for eight years before launching ISB.

ISB has since brought nearly $350 million in research
funding and sparked the creation of more than 100 systems biology research
facilities around the world. The National Institutes of Health has also awarded
hundreds of millions of dollars to fund systems biology research.

Hood is now working on a pilot project with the Ohio State
University Medical School to incorporate his P4 medicine approach. He hopes the
pilot project will further bring health care providers into the
information-based paradigm.

Hood’s P4 is a new frontier in medicine that will
revolutionize health care the way that the discovery of King Tut’s tomb changed
the study of ancient Egypt.

“People tend to fall into two categories: blown away or
instantly skeptical,” he says. “I guarantee P4 medicine will work. The only
thing you can argue is timeline.”


Lisa Shaffer, co-founder, Signature Genomics

With its exclusive testing technologies, Spokane-based
Signature Genomic Laboratories has become somewhat of a celebrity in the field
of clinical genetics. In what used to take as much as three weeks, the lab,
co-founded by Lisa Shaffer, applies proprietary microarray-based technology to
conduct chromosome diagnostics in two to three days. Patients and expectant
families can now better prepare should results show chromosomal abnormality.

Steve Reed, founder, Infectious Disease Research Institute

After college in 1979, Steve Reed was hired as a scientist
at the National Institute of Amazon Research in Manaus, Brazil, where he
directed research on tropical diseases. Now Reed, the founder and head of
research and development at Seattle’s Infectious Disease Research Institute,
has been helping developing countries fight exotic diseases. IDRI has developed
a vaccine to combat leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease that affects about 12
million people each year. IDRI is also working on an additive to a vaccine that
could improve the effectiveness and supply of the H1N1 vaccine.

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