Leroy Hood of Seattle, Wash., was honored with the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize recently during a gala held by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). The Russ Prize, created by Ohio University with a gift from alumnus Fritz Russ and his wife, Dolores, was among the engineering profession’s highest honors for 2011 during the black-tie dinner event at Union Station in Washington, D.C. Hood received the $500,000 biennial award, which recognizes a bioengineering achievement in widespread use that significantly improves the human condition, for developing the DNA sequencer.
Hood’s invention made possible the sequencing of the human genome in just more than a decade instead of a century. “The human genome project transformed biology as perhaps no other science project has ever done,” Hood said, noting that the project “democratized” all human genes by making them accessible to all biologists.
An inventor, scholar, and visionary, Hood has pioneered bringing engineering to biology through his invention and commercialization of many of the key analytic instruments in use today and through his successful application of these instruments to some of the most fundamental problems in modern biology and medicine. To date, more than 1,000 genomes have been revealed using the automated DNA sequencer, transforming many areas of biology. The advancement has also led to expressed sequence tagging, which ultimately helped to predict gene function; the ability to identify genes involved in diseases; a change in how pharmaceutical companies make drugs; and an economic impact in the life sciences and healthcare estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Hood, president and co-founder of the non-profit Institute for Systems Biology, and his colleagues currently are using 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. Hood predicts a sea change in healthcare as we know it with the advent of what he terms “P4” medicine — predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory – made possible by his work. “This revolutionary new medicine will have important societal implications by sharply turning around the ever escalating costs of healthcare, and important medical implications because the twin vision of P4 medicine are wellness quantified and disease demystified,” Hood explains.
Previous Russ Prize recipients include Elmer Gaden (2009), engineering and commercialization of biological systems for large-scale manufacturing of antibiotics and other drugs; Yuan-Cheng “Bert” Fung (2007), the father of biomechanical engineering; Leland C. Clark Jr. (2005), inventor of biosensors; Willem J. Kolff (2003), the father of artificial organs; and Earl E. Bakken and Wilson Greatbatch (2001), inventors of the heart pacemaker.