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Internationally Known Scientist to Head New Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Thursday, April 05, 2007

 Claire M. Fraser-Liggett, Ph.D., will head the new Institute of Genome Sciences.

The University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore has named preeminent genome scientist and microbiologist Claire M. Fraser-Liggett, Ph.D., to head the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute for Genome Sciences – a new research enterprise dedicated to the application of genome sciences for the advancement of human health. This new institute will be located at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) BioPark, a biomedical research park on UMB’s expanding campus. 

Dr. Fraser-Liggett comes to the School of Medicine from The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, MD, where she has served as president and director since 1998. During her tenure at TIGR, federal funding to the organization tripled to $60 million per year. At TIGR, Dr. Fraser-Liggett led research teams that sequenced the genomes of many microbial organisms and helped to initiate the era of comparative genomics. She has been the most highly cited scientist in the field of microbiology for the past 10 years.

"Dr. Fraser-Liggett is a true pioneer in the effort to sequence and analyze the genomes of a large number of organisms, and we are thrilled to have her world-class expertise at the University of Maryland," says E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., Vice President for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland and Dean of the School of Medicine. "Dr. Fraser-Liggett is expected to bring a team of scientists and staff members with her. This major recruitment initiative will fuel the expansion of genomic research at the School of Medicine."

As an expert in the field of microbial genomics, one aspect of Dr. Fraser-Liggett’s current research is to understand the communities of bacteria in the human body, especially the microorganisms that reside in the digestive tract. These bacterial cells far outnumber the human cells that make up our bodies and are vital to good health. By comparing DNA sequences from these microbes, researchers have already determined the biological function of some beneficial bacteria. The research could lead to new ways to promote health and novel vaccines to prevent disease.

"I am extremely excited about the opportunity to build a new genomics institute within the School of Medicine," says Dr. Fraser-Liggett. "The School of Medicine has a rich history in medical and graduate education and an outstanding faculty in both basic and clinical research, many of whom are current or past collaborators with TIGR."

Dr. Fraser-Liggett has overseen the genome sequencing of important human pathogens, including bacterial infections that cause cholera and anthrax, and parasitic infections responsible for malaria and other devastating diseases in the developing world. Her work also includes the study of influenza and other viruses. These studies have provided a strong foundation for the development of new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. At the University of Maryland, Dr. Fraser-Liggett will build on her impressive body of work while collaborating with physician-scientists in an environment that fosters translational medicine.

"One of the most important challenges over the next two decades will be integrating new insights from the past 10 years of genomics studies into the clinical environment to impact human health," says Dr. Fraser-Liggett. "There is no better place to be working toward these goals than in a large academic medical center like the University of Maryland School of Medicine."

"The University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute for Genome Sciences will provide countless opportunities for multi-disciplinary collaboration," says Bruce E. Jarrell, M.D., Vice Dean for Research and Academic Affairs. "Institute faculty will have opportunities for clinical research and benefit from the School of Medicine’s strong international programs, such as the Center for Vaccine Development, headed by Dr. Myron Levine; the Institute of Human Virology, led by Dr. Robert Gallo; and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, chaired by Dr. James Kaper."
Dr. Fraser-Liggett has been continuously supported by federal funding, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She currently serves on the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity and the National Research Council's Committee on Metagenomics. She is a member of the editorial boards of The Journal of Biological Chemistry and The Journal of Bacteriology. She has published more than 220 articles in scientific journals and is a reviewer for nine journals. In addition to three honorary doctoral degrees, she has received the E.O. Lawrence Award, the highest award presented by the Department of Energy; the New York Academy of Science's Diversity in Science Award for Leadership and Scientific Excellence (2005): the Society for Industrial Microbiology's Charles Thom Award (2005); and the Promega Biotechnology Award (2005). She has been elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology (2005) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2005). She also received Maryland's Top 100 Women Circle of Excellence Award (2004). In 2006, Dr. Fraser-Liggett was elected to the board of directors of Becton, Dickinson and Company.

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