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Leland Hartwell

Arizona State University announces the appointment of Nobel Prize winner Dr. Leland “Lee” H. Hartwell to lead an expansive effort addressing two of today’s top concerns: improving the effectiveness of health care while reducing its costs, and advancing science education. Hartwell is the first Nobel Prize recipient in physiology or medicine to serve a faculty appointment at an Arizona university. He will establish and co-direct the Center for Sustainable Health at ASU’s Biodesign Institute as ASU’s second Virginia G. Piper Chair of Personalized Medicine. The new center is the latest step in the evolution of the Arizona-based Partnership for Personalized Medicine, launched by Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.

Hartwell’s new center in the Biodesign Institute will identify biomarkers-early indicators of disease- to enable personalized, pre-symptomatic diagnoses, and it will develop tools for providing the intelligence needed for better patient outcomes. It will interface with other Biodesign centers working on complimentary aspects of these goals. Hartwell is no stranger to Arizona, having served as executive chairman of the Partnership for Personalized Medicine since its creation. The partnership includes the Biodesign Institute, Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Hartwell currently is president and director of the Hutchinson Center. Hartwell has announced he will retire from his post at the Hutchinson Center in June 2010. He will then assume his ASU tenured faculty appointment.

During the coming academic year, he will begin preliminary preparations for the new center during a phased transition approved by Hutchinson Center. Hartwell will have several academic appointments at ASU. His interest in advancing science education will be furthered serving as a tenured professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Other tenured appointments include ASU’s School of Life Sciences and School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, areas critical to his sustainable health initiative. For most of Hartwell’s career he studied genes that control cell division in yeast. Subsequently many of these same genes have been found to control cell division in humans and often to be the site of alteration in cancer. Hartwell also turned to yeast to investigate the basis for accurate cellular reproduction and discovered a new class of gene: the “checkpoint” gene. These genes notice when mistakes have been made during cellular reproduction and halt cell division so that repair can take place. His insights into cell-cycle control are being used at the Hutchinson Center and elsewhere to develop treatments for cancer and other diseases.

Recently his interests have turned to how we can use the enormous knowledge that has accumulated over the last 50 years in genetics and biochemistry to benefit cancer patients. He believes that the most efficient path is to improve molecular diagnostics to identify individuals at high risk for disease, detect cancer and other diseases at an early stage when they can be cured, provide prognostic information and monitor therapeutic response. Proteins will likely provide the best diagnostic information because of their greater diversity and because their state reflects biological function. The technology for protein diagnostics, however, is in its infancy. Hartwell’s efforts are directed toward improving the field of protein diagnostics.

Hartwell earned a B.S. at the California Institute of Technology and in 1964 earned a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the mentorship of Dr. Boris Magasanik. He engaged in postdoctoral work at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies from 1964 through 1965 with Dr. Renato Dulbecco. He joined the University of Washington faculty in 1968 as a genetics professor. In 1996 he joined the faculty of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and in 1997 became its president and director. Hartwell is the recipient of many national and international scientific awards, including the 2001 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Other honors include the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, the Gairdner Foundation International Award and the Alfred P. Sloan Award in cancer research. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.