Medscape Medical News
National Medal of Science Recipient Predicts Patient-Driven Medicine
Jacquelyn K. Beals, PhD
Feb 05, 2013
Among the 12 recipients of the 2012 National Medal of Science honored by President Barack Obama was Leroy (Lee) Hood, MD, PhD, president and cofounder of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, Washington. A White House ceremony was held February 1. In a telephone interview with Medscape Medical News, Dr. Hood said his reaction to the honor was to feel "surprised and really excited when I first heard it.... They made us keep it hushed up for 4 months, something like that, and they said the only person you could tell was your wife." Despite those instructions, Dr. Hood admits, "I told a few people beyond my wife."
The National Medal of Science, established by Congress in 1959 and first awarded for 1962, is the highest recognition bestowed on scientists by the US government. When recipients were announced publicly on December 21, 2012, Dr. Hood expressed his gratitude "to the many fantastic colleagues and partners with whom I have worked throughout the years. Transforming human health is my life's work, and I am proud of all we have accomplished."
In the East Room ceremony held February 1, Dr. Hood was cited for his "pioneering spirit, passion, vision, inventions, and leadership combined with unique cross-disciplinary approaches resulting in entrepreneurial ventures, transformative commercial products, and several new scientific disciplines that have challenged and transformed the fields of biotechnology, genomics, proteomics, personalized medicine, and science education."
Born in Missoula, Montana, in 1938, Dr. Hood showed his scientific gifts in high school as a finalist in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. He earned an undergraduate major in biology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech; 1960), an MD from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (1964), and a PhD in biochemistry from Caltech (1968), studying the structure, genetics, and evolution of immunoglobulins.
A current resume lists his research interests as systems biology and medicine, genomics, technology development, personalized medicine, cancer, neurodegeneration, and clinical assays. Dr. Hood is also listed on 36 issued patents and as the author of more than 700 peer-reviewed papers.
While on the Caltech biology faculty, Dr. Hood and colleagues developed the technology for sequencing and synthesizing DNA and proteins. The significance of this work was noted by Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, who was then the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, in a February 2001 news conference on the publication of the human genome papers: "We would not be here today if not for the innovation in technology," observed Dr. Collins. Dr. Hood also was director of Caltech's Cancer Center until the early 1990s.
In 1992, Dr. Hood moved his research to the University of Washington in Seattle, and in 1999, he cofounded the Institute for Systems Biology, a nonprofit research center. According to the institute's Web site, his research group is "integrating biology, technology and computation to create a predictive, personalized, preventive and participatory [P4] approach to medicine."
Dr. Hood's cross-disciplinary approach develops "strategies, technologies and knowledge" that will lead to P4 medicine. Among major research areas studied are prion disease; neurodegenerative diseases, particularly frontotemporal dementia and Huntington's disease; use of induced pluripotent stem cells in studying differentiation of cardiomyocytes; and analysis of whole-genome sequences from families with genetic diseases.
"P4 medicine isn't just about a systems approach to disease but, rather, it is also about patient-activated social networks and large data sets and how you analyze them," Dr. Hood told Medscape Medical News. "The convergence of big data, social-activated networks, and systems medicine was really what led to this transformational view," he explained.
One systems medicine approach to disease is the use of blood as a window into health and disease. Dr. Hood's group has developed a panel of 11 blood biomarkers "that allow us, with terrific accuracy, to distinguish patients that have posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD] from their normal controls. We did this on 50 soldiers that were normal and 50 soldiers that had PTSD from Afghanistan," Dr. Hood explained. "For the first time, we have a quantitative blood assay for a disease that has in the past been analyzed by psychological methods."
This quantitative assay enables researchers to do early diagnosis, to assess the stage of progression, to follow the response to therapy, and ultimately to allow the disease to be stratified into subtypes.
Dr. Hood also foresees consumer- or patient-activated social networks being a powerful driving force in the acceptance of this "new medicine."
"You can see that with Web sites like PatientsLikeMe, where you can write in, you can tell what disease you have, and you're immediately connected with patients that have gone through the experience and know how to deal with it," said Dr. Hood. "These types of patients are now coming to physicians and asking sophisticated and contemporary questions, and I think they're going to push the practice of healthcare in a very powerful way."
In addition to the National Medal of Science and numerous prestigious awards and honorary degrees, Dr. Hood has received recognition from less traditional sources — among them, Wired magazine's "The 2008 Smart List: 15 people the Next President Should Listen To" and Rolling Stone magazine's "The RS 100 Agents of Change" (April 1, 2009).
As President Obama noted in his opening remarks at the White House awards ceremony, "Today it's clearer than ever that our future as a nation depends on keeping that spirit of curiosity and innovation alive in our time. These honorees are at the forefront of that mission."