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Dr. Hood addresses the crowd

Photographer: Mark Dawson


Hood visits the Stocker Center lab of Associate Professor of Computer Science Cindy Marling and Professor of Endocrinology Frank Schwartz, who with their team aim to use artificial intelligence to predict blood glucose levels in diabetes patients

Photographer: Mark Dawson


Russ Prize winner Dr. Hood speaks to crowd on Thursday

Photographer: Mark Dawson

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Human Genome Project pioneer visits Ohio University

Scientist forecasts game change in medical and healthcare industries

Imagine your entire genome keeping company with your height, weight and prescription history as part of your medical record. According to 2011 Russ Prize recipient Leroy Hood, one of the pioneers of the Human Genome Project, this isn't a dream – it will be a reality within 10 years.

During his lecture at Ohio University' Baker University Center Theatre on Thursday, Hood predicted that in a decade, individuals will be able to have their genomes sequenced for $100 in order to understand if they are predisposed to diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Sequencing of the first human genome, which took more than a decade, cost $1 billion, by Hood's estimate.

"Dr. Hood succinctly and persuasively presented his vision of the future of medicine, enabled by his groundbreaking approach of ‘systems biology,'" said Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin, dean of the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology. "His lecture may well be the most significant such event in the recent history of the university. It will certainly affect the direction of biomolecular engineering in the Russ College."

Lecturing to a standing-room only crowd of almost 300 students, faculty, staff and community members, Hood explained that the complexity of both humans and diseases requires a holistic, comprehensive approach to medicine in the 21st century.

"Human beings are incredibly complex and disease is incredibly complex," Hood said. "That complexity arises as a natural consequence of Darwinian evolution, which is a random and chaotic process."

According to Hood, an effective treatment for patients requires more than just understanding one component – it requires "systems biology," the understanding of how components work together and their dynamics.

"Suppose you, as an engineer, want to know how a radio works," proposed Hood. Simply taking it apart wouldn't really provide an engineer with a thorough understanding of the system, Hood explained -- it would require an understanding of the whole system.

Hood's systems approach to medical treatment proposes that diseases arise from disease-perturbed networks. The ability to recognize these networks, Hood says, can lead to much more effective treatment wherein doctors look for actionable genetic variants that can be focused upon to directly reverse disease.

To demonstrate, Hood spoke of a friend who experienced osteoporosis in his 40s, a very young age for the disease. After looking at his genetic sequence, the friend found that the result was a faulty calcium transporter – and the treatment was simply a dramatically high dosage of just one vitamin. Within one year, the symptoms had completely subsided.

The most important revolution in Hood's view, though, will be in the way medical systems deal with patients.

"My argument is that every patient's data should belong to society and not the patient," said Hood. His idea is that society generated the resources to create data to transform health, so this information should be available for qualified investigators to utilize.

He described what his team at Seattle's Institute for Systems Biology refers to as "P4 medicine," which is proactive rather than reactive. The components of this new treatment combine to produce a predictive, personalized, preventative and participatory approach that will be driven by patients who have access to their family genomes.

"The idea that you're going to improve your kids' and your grandkids' health – that is an incredibly exciting kind of idea," Hood said.

Hood lectured and visited with faculty and students last week as part of having received the 2011 Russ Prize, awarded by the National Academy of Engineering in partnership with the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology.

The leading bioengineering prize in the world, the Russ Prize honors those whose work has improved the human condition. Hood was recognized for developing the automated DNA sequencer, which made possible the sequencing of the human genome in just more than a decade instead of a century.

To hear a recording of Leroy Hood's lecture, click here.