NHGRI Names New Chief of Cancer Genetics Branch|
Dr. Elaine Ostrander Will Lead Efforts to Understand Genetic Basis
Bethesda, Maryland The National Human Genome Research Institute
(NHGRI) has named Elaine A. Ostrander, Ph.D., as the new chief of
its Cancer Genetics Branch, one of the seven research branches in
the Division of Intramural Research. In its short, 10-year history,
the NHGRI Intramural Program has emerged as one of the premier research
enterprises working to unravel the genetic basis of human disease.
"Dr. Ostrander brings a combination of expertise and vision in multiple
areas of genetics, genomics and cancer biology to the Institute.
Under her energetic leadership, the Cancer Genetics Branch will
have unprecedented opportunities for elucidating the molecular underpinnings
of cancer, and for developing new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches
for the care of cancer patients," said NHGRI Scientific Director
Eric D. Green, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Ostrander comes to NHGRI from the
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) in Seattle, where
for more than a decade her laboratory has been a leader in mapping
genes responsible for cancer susceptibility in dogs and humans.
Cancer is the No. 1 killer of dogs, and the clinical presentation,
histology and biology of many canine cancers closely parallel those
of human malignancies. Consequently, comparative genetic studies
of canine and human cancers should yield significant clinical benefits
for both species.
In addition to their relatively high rate of cancer,
dogs are an especially useful species for genetic studies because
selective breeding has generated an extremely diverse range of breed
types. Such diversity makes it easier for geneticists to identify
the gene or gene combinations responsible for various traits, such
as leg length, coat color and enhanced disease resistance. Conversely,
this diversity also makes it easier for researchers to identify
the genes responsible for susceptibility to cancer and other diseases.
Many dog breeds result from a limited gene pool, and as a result
have a high incidence of genetic diseases. This creates additional
opportunities for researchers to zero in on gene(s) of interest
for both human and canine health.
"Because human families are small,
it's difficult to use them to discover the many genes involved in
cancer. However, dog families, with their larger size, give us the
advantage of being able to find many more of the genetic contributors
to disease, particularly cancer," Dr. Ostrander said. "By using
dogs as an animal model and comparing what we learn in them to what
we know about human cancer, we are slowly but surely putting together
the basic vocabulary of cancer susceptibility."
In addition to her
canine research, Dr. Ostrander studies prostate and breast cancer
susceptibility genes in humans. With other collaborators, she recently
undertook a genome-wide scan for prostate cancer susceptibility
genes. So far, this research has found that prostate cancer is genetically
very diverse and that multiple genes are likely involved in its
development and progression. She and her colleagues are now focusing
their efforts on identifying candidate genes. Dr. Ostrander also
is interested in studying the general population to learn more about
the frequency and distribution of genetic mutations already known
to increase cancer susceptibility in high-risk families. Her laboratory
recently completed two large-scale screening studies looking for
mutations in the two known breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2)
in women with breast cancer to identify both protein-shortening
and missense changes that are likely to be associated with cancer.
Dr. Ostrander's graduate and postdoctoral research concentrated
on DNA structure. In 1991, she moved to Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., where she began her efforts to create
a map of the dog genome. In 1993, she moved to FHCRC, where she
began a series of long-term collaborations with investigators from
the FHCRC's Public Health Sciences Division. This work lead to an
increased understanding of the role of genetic predisposition with
regard to hormonally influenced cancers, such as breast cancer.
At FHCRC, Dr. Ostrander held joint appointments at the Human Biology
Division and Clinical Research Division, and she is an Affiliate
Professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, in both the
Department of Genome Sciences at the School of Medicine and the
Department of Biology at the College of Arts and Sciences.
Born in Syracuse, N.Y., Dr. Ostrander received a B.S. in 1981 from
the University of Washington and a Ph.D. in 1987 from Oregon Health
& Sciences University in Portland. She has co-authored more than
100 peer-reviewed publications. More information on Dr. Ostrander's
research, including a list of her recent publications, is available
on the NHGRI Web site at: www.genome.gov/Staff/Ostrander.
A high-resolution portrait of Dr. Ostrander is available at: www.genome.gov/Pages/News/Photos.
NHGRI is one of the 27 institutes and centers at the National
Institutes of Health, which is 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 genomic
and genetic diseases. Additional information about NHGRI can be
found at www.genome.gov.