President Barack Obama announced today that he will give a National Medal of Science to Seattle biologist Dr. Leroy Hood, who is revered in the science community for his molecular immunology, biotechnology and genomics research.
Hood, president and co-founder of the Seattle-based Institute for Systems Biology, revolutionized biomedicine and forensic science when he and a team of other scientists discovered how to automate DNA sequencing in the 1980s. The research became an essential part of mapping the human genome years later.
In an interview Friday, Hood said he’d known about the award for three weeks, but had to keep it to himself. He said he is going to take a break tonight from writing a book on systems medicine to finally celebrate the honor with family and friends in Friday Harbor.
“It is an award recognizing your lifetime body of work, so I see it as a validation of the fundamental paradigm shift and changes in science my labs have led the way in,” Hood said Friday afternoon.
Before starting his non-profit institute in 2000, Hood founded the University of Washington’s Department of Molecular Biotechnology with a $12 million donation from Bill Gates in 1992. He’s also played a part in founding at least 14 biotechnology companies including Applied Biosystems, Darwin, Amgen, The Accelerator and Integrated Diagnostics, according to a release from the Institute for Systems Biology.
Hood said he’s currently focused on researching and expanding the use of P4 Medicine, which his lab website describes as a way of “integrating biology, technology and computation to create a predictive, personalized, preventive and participatory approach to medicine.”
In other words, P4 medicine uses computational and mathematical tools to analyze an individual’s DNA and current health status.
He says approaching biology this way could eventually benefit other industries such as agriculture, energy, and environmental protection.
Obama will present Hood and 11 other scientists, many of whom Hood knows personally, with the medal at a White House ceremony in early 2013. Recipients of the annual award are selected by a committee of presidential appointees.
“I am proud to honor these inspiring American innovators,” President Obama said in a statement. “They represent the ingenuity and imagination that has long made this nation great — and they remind us of the enormous impact a few good ideas can have when these creative qualities are unleashed in an entrepreneurial environment.”
Hood said his biology career started at Caltech, where he and other scientists developed a DNA gene sequencer and synthesizer and protein synthesizer and sequencer, which became tools for eventually mapping the human genome.
He’s the author of popular human genome book “The Code of Codes,” winner of several international science awards including the Kyoto Prize in advanced technology, and holds 36 patents.