Insel Named Director of Center for Human Genetics and Molecular Pediatric Disease

July 03, 2000

Richard A. Insel, M.D., has been appointed director of the Center for Human Genetics and Molecular Pediatric Disease at University of Rochester. The research center is part of the Aab Institute of Biomedical Sciences.

Insel will lead a team of 12 scientists who will study a variety of diseases that are caused by damaged genes, with a special focus on diseases that affect children - such as birth defects, asthma, cystic fibrosis, and diabetes.

"More than 30 percent of children who are admitted to hospitals are suffering from diseases that have genetic roots," said Insel. "We're entering a new era of medicine in which understanding the genetic causes of diseases will lead to remarkable advances in medical care. By establishing this new research center, the University of Rochester is making a commitment to be at the very forefront of medical science and health care."

In addition to studying childhood diseases, researchers in the Center for Human Genetics and Molecular Pediatric Disease will also collaborate with research teams throughout the Medical Center that are studying the genetic basis of a adult diseases such as heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer.

Insel was selected for the post after an extensive national search in which more than 50 candidates were considered. "This is a key leadership position that calls for a skilled scientist with innovative ideas and the ability to foster collaborations with scientists across the instutition. It became clear to us during the search that the candidate who best met those criteria was right here in the Medical Center," said Jay H. Stein, M.D., senior vice president and vice provost for Health Affairs and Medical Center and Strong Health CEO.

Insel, a pediatric immunologist, has served as director of the Strong Children's Research Center since 1993. He joined the University in 1977 after serving for two years as a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, and completing fellowships in immunology and pediatric research at Harvard Medical School.

Insel was one of three University of Rochester researchers who, in the early 1980s, developed the vaccine that has virtually wiped out Haemophilus influenza type b, the disease that is a leading cause of meningitis in preschoolers. David Smith, M.D., Porter Anderson, Ph.D., and Insel co-founded Praxis Biologics in 1983 to begin manufacturing the vaccine and to shepherd it through the FDA approval process. As the immunologist on the research team, Insel's role was to study the immune response produced by the vaccine, and to help the researchers refine the vaccine in order to make it more effective.

The vaccine, known as the Hib vaccine, is now administered to all infants in the United States and in many other countries around the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccine has caused Hib infections in children under 5 to plummet 99 percent in the U.S. between 1987 to 1997, from about 20,000 cases a year to only 81 in 1997.

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