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NHGRI Appoints two new Branch Chiefs

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The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has announced the appointment of two leaders in the medical application of basic research as branch chiefs in its Division of Intramural Research.

Leslie G. Biesecker, M.D., will head the Genetic Disease Research Branch, and David Bodine, Ph.D., will head the Genetics and Molecular Biology Branch.

Their appointments are part of NHGRI's ongoing effort to translate genomic discoveries into health benefits.

"Dr. Biesecker and Dr. Bodine are both highly accomplished investigators who have brought distinction to NHGRI's research program for the past 13 years," said NHGRI Scientific Director Eric D. Green, M.D., Ph.D.

"Their scientific leadership and areas of expertise will be critical to our capitalizing on the exciting new frontiers of genetics and genomics research."

Dr. Biesecker's research centers on a range of human developmental syndromes that cause physical malformations, some of which are caused by rare genetic variations.

For example, Dr. Biesecker and his colleagues identified the genetic mutation that underlies a brain disorder called microcephaly, which is common among infants in the Old Order Amish community in Pennsylvania.

The project has involved door-to-door field work, identification of the genomic basis for the disorder, and production of a transgenic mouse model of the disease, a tool for advancing understanding of this disorder.

Because the work found a tie between energy metabolism and brain development, the findings may shed light on how the human brain develops.

Dr. Biesecker also is interested in examining the genetic architecture of human disease, including both rare genetic diseases and more common ones, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

For both rare and more common diseases, Dr. Biesecker focuses on using newfound genomic knowledge and tools to improve the care of patients with such disorders.

The Genetic Disease Research Branch, which is one of seven branches in NHGRI's Division of Intramural Research, combines elements of basic laboratory research and clinical research.

Dr. Biesecker aims to provide all scientists in the branch with the resources and tools to help them translate their discoveries into improved patient care.

"The current group of investigators are well established and doing outstanding work," Dr. Biesecker said.

"We want to both encourage basic research and to translate the resulting findings in ways that will help patients in the clinic."

A native of Chicago, Dr. Biesecker received a B.S. in 1979 from the University of California, Riverside, and an M.D. in 1983 from the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

He provided pediatric care in St. Louis with the National Health Service Corps. He became an NIH investigator in 1993 and was appointed senior investigator at NHGRI in 2001.

He received an NIH Director's Award in 2002 for his participation in an expert panel that developed a process that used DNA to identify victims of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks.

Dr. Bodine studies the genetic mechanisms that underlie the production of blood cells.

His research investigates how certain stem cells, known as pluripotent hematopoietic stem cells that are found mainly in the bone marrow, differentiate into red blood cells and the many different types of white blood cells that circulate in the bloodstream.

A major goal of this research is to improve the effectiveness of bone marrow transplantation.

"Gene therapy is still in its inancy, but it has great potential for treating a number of human diseases," Dr. Bodine said.

"Achieving success for patients will take significant work and effort by us and many others."

"My vision for the branch is to create and maintain a productive environment for our investigators, ensuring that they have the resources to maintain productive programs," Dr. Bodine said.

"A large part of our initiative is to provide an outstanding environment for training the next generation of genetics and genomics scientists."

Dr. Bodine received a B.A. in 1976 from Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and a Ph.D. in 1984 from The Jackson Laboratory, affiliated with the University of Maine. He became a senior investigator at NHGRI in 1994.

Dr. Bodine has served in leadership positions with the American Society of Hematology and the American Society of Gene Therapy, where he will become president in 2008.

He also serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including "Blood, Experimental Hematology, Gene Therapy, British Journal of Hematology, and Molecular Therapy."