Skip to main content

News & Media

News & Media Front Page

Huntington Willard Named Director of Duke Genomics Institute

Huntington Willard Named Director of Duke Genomics Institute
Huntington Willard Named Director of Duke Genomics Institute


Duke Health News Duke Health News

Note: The Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy
now includes 7 centers
--Center for Applied Genomics & Technology
--Center for Genome Ethics, Law & Policy
--Center for Genomic Medicine
--Center for Bioinformatics & Computational Biology
--Center for Models of Human Disease
--Center for Population Genomics & Pharmacogenetics
--Center for Evolutionary Genomics

DURHAM, NC -- Huntington Willard,
, a leader in emerging fields of genomics, who is
current director and president of the research institute of University
Hospitals of Cleveland, has been named director of the Duke
University Institute for
Genome Sciences and Policy

The $200 million Genomics Institute, launched in 2000,
represents Duke's comprehensive response to the broad
challenges of the Genomic Revolution. Because advances in
genome science and its applications raise a broad spectrum of
ethical, legal and policy issues, the IGSP comprises -- in
addition to scientists, engineers and physicians -- scholars in
law, business, economics, public policy, ethics, religion,
environmental studies and other humanities and social

Said Duke Provost Peter Lange: "Hunt Willard is a superb
appointment to lead this unprecedented university-wide
initiative. What most pleases me, beyond his excellent record
of accomplishments, is the speed with which he has grasped and
embraced the unique interdisciplinary qualities of the

"We have from the beginning recognized that the IGSP must
engage the profound ethical, legal and policy issues that are
raised by the Genomic Revolution, even as the institute fosters
Duke's research on fundamental questions of genomics and their
transforming application to the clinical sciences," said

"Hunt Willard is one of America's premier geneticists, and
his record for leadership at a local and national level is
superb," said R. Sanders Williams, M.D., dean of the Duke
University School of Medicine and vice chancellor for academic
affairs at Duke University Medical Center.

"He is a perfect fit to lead the IGSP, and he brings the
requisite stature, energy and vision to the task. We propose to
tackle some of the most important and difficult scientific and
medical problems of our time within a unique multidisciplinary
environment, and Hunt is the right person to realize the full
potential of this venture," said Williams.

Duke's Institute for
Genome Sciences and Policy
includes five research
-- the Center for Human Genetics
-- the Center for Human Disease Models
-- the Center for Genome Technology
-- the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational
-- the Center for Genome Ethics, Law and Policy.

Researchers at the centers are carrying out studies on the
genetic basis of diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to cancer,
as well as developing new computational research techniques and
organizing forums that explore the societal impact of genomic

Willard, 49, who received his A.B. in biology from Harvard
University and his Ph.D. from Yale University, will oversee all
of these activities. He has held research and academic posts at
Stanford University and the University of Toronto. He joined
the faculty of Case Western Reserve University in 1992 as the
Henry Willson Payne Professor and chairman of the Department of
Genetics. In 1992, he also became director of the Center for
Human Genetics at Case Western Reserve and University of
Hospitals of Cleveland. He assumed his current position as head
of the Research Institute in

Willard has been active in applying new genetic and genomic
techniques that combine the insights of molecular biology with
high-powered computing to reveal the genetic secrets of human
health and disease. He has authored or co-authored more than
250 scientific papers, primarily on topics involving the
molecular structure and function of chromosomes, the structures
that carry and organize the estimated 40,000 human genes, and
on the sequence and organization of the human genome more

His team has focused on the mechanisms by which the body
inactivates genes on the X chromosome. As female embryos
develop, they must inactivate most of the genes on one of the
two X chromosomes inherited from their parents. This
inactivation is necessary for normal development, and
malfunction of the process can cause genetic disorders.
Willard's research team has been actively studying this
process, as well as the broader mechanisms by which chromosomes
function and organize their genes.

Another major research effort in Willard's laboratory has
been to create new kinds of tools for studying the structure of
human chromosomes and for potential use in gene therapy. His
group gained worldwide attention in 1997 for construction of
the world's first human artificial chromosome.

"I am truly honored to be asked to take on the leadership of
the IGSP at Duke," said Willard. "This represents a spectacular
opportunity to shape how the knowledge of the human genome
impacts our society at all levels. Duke's response to this
challenge is unique, and Duke is one of very few institutions
in this country that can assume a leadership role in this
area," he said.

Willard has served as president of the American Society of
Human Genetics, and currently serves on the society's board of
directors. His awards include the 1999 Pruzansky Lectureship of
the American College of Medical Genetics and March of Dimes
Birth Defects Foundation, as well as the Basil O'Connor Award
of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. He has also
served as a member of the Institute of Medicine's Committee on
Understanding the Biology of Sex and Gender Differences.

He also serves as a consultant or advisor to corporations
and institutions including OncorMed, Athersys, Biomec, the
Edison Biotechnology Center, the Ohio Life Science Partnership,
Nine Sigma, the Cleveland BioEnterprise Corporation and the
Great Lakes Science Center.

Willard's appointment is subject to final review by Duke's
Advisory Committee on Appointment, Promotion and Tenure, and
approval by Lange and the Board of Trustees.

News & Media Front Page