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Wake Forest Medical School Hires Genomics Faculty Members

Wake Forest University School of Medicine has appointed five new key faculty members for the school's recently announced Center for Human Genomics.

The new faculty are Eugene Bleecker, M.D., professor of internal medicine-pulmonary/critical care, Deborah Meyers, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and of public health sciences, Wendy Moore, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine-pulmonary, Timothy Howard, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics-genetics, and Jianfeng Xu, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of public health sciences-epidemiology. Lilly Zheng, M.D., a molecular geneticist at Maryland, will also collaborate with the Wake Forest Genomics Center.

Bleecker and Meyers will serve as co-directors of Wake Forest's Center for Human Genomics.

All five new faculty members were recruited from the University of Maryland, where they were active in genetics research. Bleecker was director of the university's Center for the Genetics of Complex Diseases, and Meyers was director of the Program in Human Genetics.

Referring to Monday's announcement about the progress in the Human Genome Project, Bleecker said that programs such as Wake Forest's have the opportunity to make significant progress in the fight against major diseases. "The great advantage to all of us as we use this information is the potential for earlier identification for people at risk, so preventive measures can be used, and using this information to better develop new therapies that prevent the development of the disease, treat the disease or prevent disease progression."

Meyers said that the technology available at the Wake Forest's Genomics Center will be a key to its success. "The resources that will be available at the new Genomics Center will allow us to take full advantage of the sequencing of the human genome. We'll be able to look at the role of these many genes in causing susceptibility to the common diseases that affect everyone - cancer, heart disease, asthma, allergy, diabetes, etc."

Richard H. Dean, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs of Wake Forest University, said the medical school's genetics program will benefit greatly from the addition of the group headed by Bleecker and Meyers. "Maryland's genetics program is one of the most advanced in the country, and we are very fortunate to be able to complement our existing strengths in genetics with these new faculty members."

Bleecker's research specialty is the genetics of complex diseases, such as lung and cardiovascular diseases, and biologic studies on the mechanisms in asthma. Meyers's major emphasis is on family studies and genetic epidemiology of common diseases, including asthma, allergy, prostate cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

Moore has been studying the biology of inflammation in asthma. Howard is a molecular biologist conducting gene identification in complex diseases including asthma and cardiovascular disease. Xu conducts genetic analysis of common diseases and has been the head of an international consortium studying the genetics of prostate cancer.

Wake Forest established the nation's first department of medical genetics in the early 1940s under the leadership of William Allan, M.D. The medical school continues to have an outstanding Section on Medical Genetics in the Pediatrics Department, which will now be headed by Meyers.

Recent genetic work at the medical school includes research in "fragile X" chromosome syndromes that cause mental retardation, the genetic basis for liver disease in newborns, and genetic differences that affect cholesterol levels. The medical school also has established research in the genetic basis of diabetes, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and in genetic epidemiology (population studies).

The new Center for Human Genomics will provide support for three developing programs: functional genomics, which includes developing drugs, translational genomics, which uses animal models to develop gene therapies, and clinical translation, which is putting gene discoveries into clinical practice and disease prevention.

A total of 24 new faculty members will be hired for the Genomics Center. The center was announced earlier this year as part of a new $67 million research initiative at the medical school.

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Contact: Mark Wright, (336) 716-3382

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