ASHG declares 2015 recipients of annual Award for Excellence in Human Genetics Education

The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) has named Robert L. Nussbaum, M.D., chief medical officer of invitae and clinical professor of medicine (volunteer) at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF); Roderick R. McInnes, CM, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Lady Davis Institute at the Jewish General Hospital and Alva chair in human genetics, Canada Research chair in neurogenetics, and professor of human genetics and biochemistry at McGill University; and Huntington F. Willard, Ph.D., president and director of the Marine Biological Laboratory and professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago; as the 2015 recipients of its annual Award for Excellence in Human Genetics Education.

The ASHG award recognizes an individual or group for contributions of exceptional quality and importance to human genetics education internationally. Awardees have had long-standing involvement in genetics education, producing diverse contributions of substantive influence on individuals and/or organizations. This year's award presentation, which includes a plaque and monetary prize, will take place on Friday, October 9, during ASHG's 65th Annual Meeting in Baltimore. The three recipients will make a few remarks after jointly accepting the award.

Individually and together, the ASHG Awards Committee noted, each of this year's recipients is an accomplished geneticist and educator. Over the years, all three awardees have taught regularly as well as run their own laboratories, and have been involved in program development and/or mentoring at various levels.

Nussbaum has worked on elucidating the genetic basis of disease, including the heritable forms of Parkinson's disease, Lowe syndrome, and choroideremia. He has taught medicine and human genetics at the University of Pennsylvania, where he directed the medical school course in human genetics; the National Human Genome Research Institute, where he served as medical director of the Johns Hopkins-National Institutes of Health Genetic Counseling Training Program; and UCSF, where he co-directed the genetics teaching in the preclinical curriculum. He also co-developed a publicly available online course on genomics for medical professionals, which reached over 20,000 viewers worldwide in 2013-2014.

McInnes has contributed to scientific understanding of the molecular basis of retina and eye development, as well as identified genes and processes associated with retinal degeneration. Currently, his laboratory focuses on neuronal processes -- specifically, identifying molecular mechanisms that promote or inhibit the inherited degeneration of neurons, and elucidating the roles of two multifunctional proteins in the regulation of ion channels. McInnes has served on numerous educational committees since the 1970s, including faculty search committees and research steering committees, and in 1988 he launched the Clinician Scientist Training Program at the Research Institute of the Hospital for Sick Children. He has also taught genetics at the medical and graduate levels and supervised graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting scholars, serving on their advisory and examination committees throughout.

Willard's research has long focused on the structure and function of chromosomes and genomes. Since the early 1980s, he has developed and directed educational programs at the medical, graduate, and undergraduate levels in human genetics, genomics, and computational biology at universities in Canada and the United States. He also developed educational programs and a four-year undergraduate curriculum as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor, in order to engage students in research and increase the numbers of students entering graduate and health professional programs. In addition to co-authoring "Genetics in Medicine," Willard has co-edited several editions of the reference textbook "Genomic and Personalized Medicine".

Since 2001, Nussbaum, McInnes, and Willard have collaboratively authored the sixth, seventh, and eighth editions of the human genetics textbook "Genetics in Medicine". Nearly 60 genetics education programs worldwide currently use the textbook, in levels ranging from undergraduate to graduate and professional study, and in diverse contexts including medical, nursing, public health, speech and language, and dental programs. McInnes and Willard, along with original author Margaret W. Thompson, Ph.D., were also co-authors of the textbook's fifth edition, which was published in 1991. Thompson received the Society's first Award for Excellence in Human Genetics Education in 1995.

ASHG also recognizes the substantial contributions of all three awardees to the Society and to its journal, the American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG). Nussbaum served on the editorial board of AJHG from 1987-1989; was a member of multiple ASHG committees since 1990, including a year as Chair of the Program Committee in 1992; belonged to the Society's Board of Directors from 1992-1996; and was its President in 2004. McInnes served on various committees since 1989, including a year as chair of the nominating committee in 2000, and was an associate editor of AJHG from 1994-1996. He was also a member of the ASHG Board of Directors from 2004-2007 and again from 2009-2012, and was the Society's president in 2010. Willard has served on various ASHG committees since 1986, including as Chair of the Nominating Committee in 1987 and 2006 and as chair of the program committee in 1994, and was an associate editor of AJHG from 1989-1991. He was a member of the ASHG Board of Directors from 1994-1996 and again from 2000-2003, and was the Society's president in 2001. In addition, he received the ASHG William Allan Award in 2009.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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