|NHGRI Names Co-Chiefs of Inherited Disease Research Branch
Drs. Joan Bailey-Wilson and Alexander Wilson Will Lead Efforts To Use Statistical
Tools to Find Genetic Keys to Common Diseases
Baltimore, Maryland — The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
today announced the appointment of a husband-and-wife scientific team, Joan E.
Bailey-Wilson, Ph.D., and Alexander F. Wilson, Ph.D., as the new co-chiefs of
its Inherited Disease Research Branch, one of the seven research branches in
NHGRI’s Division of Intramural Research.
“We are excited that these outstanding scientists have agreed to take the helm
of the Inherited Disease Research Branch. Their vision and expertise will advance
our efforts to unlock the genetic mysteries of common diseases,” said NHGRI Scientific
Director Eric. D. Green, M.D., Ph.D.
Located at the Bayview campus in Baltimore, the Inherited Disease Research
Branch develops and applies new methods and tools to identify the genetic contributions
to disease, particularly in common, genetically complex disorders, such as cancer
and diabetes. Most of the branch’s researchers are statistical geneticists, a
research specialty that combines statistics, genetics and computer science.
The Inherited Disease Research Branch also serves as NHGRI’s link to the Center
for Inherited Disease Research, a federally supported facility located at The
Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The center provides high-throughput genotyping
to scientists at NIH and other research institutions around the world.
Drs. Bailey-Wilson and Wilson are currently senior investigators in the branch.
Dr. Bailey-Wilson is head of the Statistical Genetics Section, while Dr. Wilson
is head of the Genometrics Section.
“Given the vast amounts of genomic data becoming available, the Inherited Disease
Research Branch is destined to become even more important in coming years. Not
only will our investigators search for genes themselves, but we will develop
innovative methods and software to guide other genome researchers in their hunts
for disease-associated genes,” said Dr. Bailey-Wilson.
Dr. Wilson agreed, “There is an urgent need to bolster the statistical ‘toolkits’ used
by the genome research community. Our branch must work to develop new methodologies
that are easier to use and that can handle the massive amount of data now being
generated by molecular geneticists.”
Both natives of Baltimore, Drs. Bailey-Wilson and Wilson met during their senior
year at Western Maryland College, now known as McDaniel College, in Westminster,
where they were performing separate genetic research projects under the same
mentor, Jean Kerschner, Ph.D. “We got married while we were graduate students
at Indiana and have been a three-career couple — his, hers and ours — ever since,” Dr.
Dr. Bailey-Wilson received a B.A. in 1975 from McDaniel College and a Ph.D.
in Medical Genetics in 1981 from Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis.
Along with colleagues at other institutions, Dr. Bailey-Wilson’s group has been
engaged in an intense effort to find genes that contribute to the development
of lung cancer. In a study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics
in September 2004, Dr. Bailey-Wilson and other members of the Genetic Epidemiology
of Lung Cancer Consortium reported strong evidence for the presence of a major
lung cancer susceptibility gene on chromosome 6 that appears to act with smoking
to increase lung cancer risk. The consortium is now working on pinpointing the
exact gene and defining the mutations that play a role in the disease. They are
also searching for other genes that may affect the risk for lung cancer.
Dr. Bailey-Wilson’s group is also heavily involved in the search for genes
that influence vision disorders, such as glaucoma, myopia and cataracts. They
work with numerous collaborators in several large population- and family-based
studies of these disorders, and have presented these results in several recent
papers and at scientific meetings of organizations such as the International
Genetic Epidemiology Society and the American Society of Human Genetics. In an
attempt to identify these genes, Dr. Bailey-Wilson’s group is using new data
and technologies related to the International HapMap Project, a six-nation effort
that recently produced a comprehensive catalog of human genetic variation.
Dr. Wilson received a B.A. from McDaniel College in 1975 and a Ph.D. in Medical
Genetics from Indiana University in 1980. His research covers a wide range of
disorders, including obesity and cardiovascular disease. His group recently determined
that at least some cases of extreme curvature of the spine — referred to as scoliosis — are
linked to a region on the X chromosome. He and his colleagues are now trying
to pinpoint the exact gene(s) responsible for scoliosis, which affects about
one in 200 people.
In addition, Dr. Wilson combined two traditional tests in a way that increased
the ease and significantly reduced the cost of testing for the heritability of
quantitative traits, such as blood pressure. The combined methodology is called
Regression of Offspring on MidParent (ROMP). He also created a software program
that enables researchers to build better models to simulate and analyze the varying
contributions of genetic and environmental factors to a specific disease in a
given population. More than 70 institutions in at least 14 countries are now
using this Genometric Analysis Simulation Program (GASP) software as a teaching
tool and to test new methodologies.
High-resolution photos of Drs. Bailey-Wilson and Wilson are available at: http://www.genome.gov/10005141.
NHGRI is one of the 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes
of Health, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. The NHGRI
Division of Intramural Research develops and implements technology to understand,
diagnose and treat genetic diseases. Additional information about NHGRI can
be found at www.genome.gov.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research
Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of
the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary Federal
agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical
research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common
and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.