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Leroy Hood

2011 Russ Prize winner Leroy Hood

Fritz and Dolores Russ

Fritz and Dolores Russ

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Leroy Hood wins 2011 Russ Prize

Award is top bioengineering honor


Ohio University and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) announce that the bioengineering profession's highest honor, the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize, has been awarded to Leroy Hood of Seattle, for his discoveries related to the sequencing of the human genome.

Hood, president and co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology, will receive the $500,000 award for automating DNA sequencing that has revolutionized biomedicine and forensic science.

"Dr. Hood's contribution has advanced health and quality of life in the U.S. and around the world, and have enhanced the education of future engineering leaders," said NAE president Charles Vest. "Recognizing him not only rewards great accomplishments but also shines a light on the importance of work that may inspire others to build on their achievements." 

Hood developed the automated DNA sequencer, which enabled the rapid, automated sequencing of DNA, making a significant contribution to the mapping of the human genome and revolutionizing the field of genomics.

To date, more than 1,000 genomes have been revealed using the automated DNA sequencer, transforming many areas of biology and accelerating the pace of scientific discovery in ways that will profoundly impact research in the coming decades.

The advancement has also led to expressed sequence tagging, which ultimately helped to predict gene function, and the ability to identify genes involved in diseases. Hood's work has also led to a change in how pharmaceutical companies make drugs, and has made an economic impact estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars in the life science and healthcare industries.

Dennis Irwin, dean of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology at Ohio University, notes that the invention of the automated DNA sequencer is unique in the history of the Russ Prize because of its application to forensic science.

"The sequencer has enabled the development of important drugs that are crucial to the realization of personalized medicine and therefore have saved lives. It's also true that many people wrongly accused of crimes have been exonerated and been given back their lives," he said.

Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis said Fritz and Dolores Russ established a legacy with the Russ Prize.

"The prize is just one way that we can help honor the achievements of extraordinary engineers whose work improves the human condition," he said. "Ohio University is privileged to be a part of the Russes' extraordinary legacy of fostering and honoring life-changing engineering research and advances across the globe."

Hood is the sixth recipient of the biennial Russ Prize, which is modeled after the Nobel Prize. He will receive the award at a ceremony in Washington D.C., on Feb. 22.

About Leroy Hood

With a research interest in genetics, Hood recognized the need for new tools to decipher biological information. Integrating new ideas in chemistry, engineering, and software, he led a team at the California Institute of Technology that developed the sequencer in the 1980s. 

In 1981, he founded Applied Biosystems, Inc (ABI), an instrument company to commercialize the DNA sequencer and three other instruments developed in the Hood lab. By the late 1980s, ABI had developed a commercial DNA sequencer that could be used in any laboratory.

Prior to automated sequencing, the process of manual sequencing was slow and laborious. It took 30 years, for instance, to sequence the genome of a cold virus. Today, the genome of a virus of the same size can be sequenced in less than an hour.

Hood was an early pioneer in promoting the Human Genome Project and served on a National Academies committee that ultimately made the recommendations that led to the project's start in 1990.

He has won numerous awards in recognition for his work, including the Albert Lasker Award (1987), Kyoto Prize (2002), the Lemelson–MIT Prize (2003), and the Heinz Award (2006). He is one of only seven individuals elected to all three membership organizations of the National Academies, the NAE in 2007, the Institute of Medicine in 2003 and the National Academy of Sciences in 1982.

"No single person has done more to create the genomics era than Leroy Hood," said Ed Lazowska, Bill and Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science at the University of Washington. "Lee is a visionary who integrated science and technology, creating instruments that allow us to tackle some of the most fundamental problems in modern biology and medicine."

About the Institute for Systems Biology

The Institute for Systems Biology, which Hood co-founded, is a nonprofit dedicated to pioneering systems science for the advancement of global health, energy and the environment, and "P4" medicine (predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory), which aims to transform medicine to a discipline that emphasizes health and wellness. Hood and his colleagues are utilizing advances in genomics, proteomics, and molecular diagnostics to pioneer advances in diagnostics, therapeutics, and prevention that will focus increasingly on promoting wellness
rather than merely treating disease. 

About the Russ Prize

The Russ Prize was established in 1999 at the request of Ohio University to honor alumnus and esteemed engineer Fritz Russ and his wife, Dolores. Their multimillion dollar gift to the university for the prize was intended to promote engineering education and bioengineering achievements worldwide that are in widespread use and have improved the human condition. The prize is awarded every two years.

About the National Academy of Engineering

The National Academy of Engineering is an independent, nonprofit institution. Its members consist of the nation's premier engineers, who are elected by their peers for seminal contributions to engineering. The academy provides leadership and guidance to government on the application of engineering resources to social, economic, and security problems. Established in 1964, NAE operates under the congressional charter granted to the National Academy of Sciences in 1863.