Senator John Heinz


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The Heinz Awards


Leroy Hood

Dr. Leroy Hood receives the Heinz Award in Technology, the Economy and Employment for his extraordinary breakthroughs in biomedical science that have unlocked new fields of study and delivered life-saving products to the marketplace.

The owner of 14 breakthrough patents in the biomedical arena, including the DNA gene sequencer that laid the foundation for the Human Genome Project, Dr. Hood is the progenitor of the emerging field of study called "systems biology." He is the founder of 10 biotechnology companies, the inventor of an array of life-saving products and a visionary reformer in the teaching of the life sciences.

With an M.D. from Johns Hopkins and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), Dr. Hood's early work in the 1960s focused on antibody diversity, immunology and myeloma proteins. He learned how to sequence proteins (i.e., determine the order of a gene's building blocks) and put forth a then-radical idea that antibody chains were actually encoded by two distinct genes one variable for recognizing foreign molecular patterns and one constant for killing the responses of antibody molecules. It was a theory that was met with initial skepticism within the scientific community, but it turned out to be the key to understanding how the body synthesizes diverse antibodies.

Dr. Hood joined the Public Health Service in 1967 and, as the senior investigator in the immunology branch of the National Cancer Institute, established the protein chemistry laboratory. Knowing that precise technology could lift barriers to the deciphering of important biological information, he developed a growing interest in the integration of biology and technology. Upon returning to CalTech in 1970, he created a protein sequencer that was 100 times more sensitive than its predecessors. This technology opened up new areas in biology, including greater understanding of the causes of and treatments for certain cancers. Dr. Hood then went on to invent four additional instruments - each of which has had a major impact on biology and medicine.

The groundbreaking work in Dr. Hood's laboratory led to the onset of a new field called systems biology" the interplay among biology, technology and computation"and under-standing the properties of the human immune system became the center of his work during the late 1970s. His lab produced an array of commercial applications. He founded Applied Biosystems, a world leader in molecular instrumentation and, in 1992, founded the first cross-disciplinary biology department, Molecular Biotechnology, at the University of Washington.

A quiet yet insistent visionary, Dr. Leroy Hood's insights, wisdom and conviction have accelerated discovery and unlocked new fields of study resulting in life-saving products. His influence will be felt for many generations to come.

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.


December 2012 - Seattle biologist, Leroy Hood, will receive the National Medal of Science for his work on molecular immunology, biotechnology and genomics. - The Seattle Times

March 2011
- The California Institute of Technology has recognized Leroy Hood ('68) with the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor regularly bestowed by the Institute. This award acknowledges a particular achievement, a series of achievements, or a career of achievements of noteworthy value. Since its inception in 1966, the award has been granted to outstanding alumni in the sciences, engineering, business, and the arts. - Caltech

January 2011 - Leroy Hood will receive the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize - a $500,000 biennial award recognizing a bioengineering achievement that significantly improves the human condition - "for automating DNA sequencing that revolutionized biomedicine and forensic science." - National Academy of Engineering

October 2007 - Leroy Hood was listed as one of "The 10 Hottest Nerds" in Newsweek and answered the question of where the biological sciences are headed in the future, making the point that biology will be the dominant science in the 21st century. Another transformation will be in single-cell analysis and the ability to read the biological information of the DNA, RNA and proteins inside a cell. - Newsweek


11/14/2006 - Acceptance Speech

Let me tell you about a dream I have for medicine in the future. And it's a dream where we can reach out to all citizens in the world. It's a dream where we can change fundamentally how we do medicine from its current reactive mode to a predictive, a preventive, a highly personalized, and even a participatory mode.

The systems biology that you heard about is transforming how we think about medicine in a holistic way. And that together with new technologies, nanotechnology and so forth is going to permit us within the next 10 years to have a medicine where each of you will have your genome sequence, and we can make predictions about what your future health history is. Where you will twice a year do simple blood measurements and from that we can predict what your current state of health is. Where we can use these systems approaches entirely new approaches to drugs that make them simpler and much more expedient in terms of their discovery. Where we can treat individuals for their individual uniqueness and where in time through this education and this new medicine individuals will be able to participate in their future health history.

This will challenge enormously the status quo. All of the health care industry will over a 10 or 15 year period have to rewrite their plans ... drug companies to discover drugs in more effective ways ... insurance companies to wonder just what they should do in this world of predictive medicine ... and even medical schools will have to learn to teach physicians that will be practicing a very different type of medicine.

What excites me most is that this will push us toward a digitalization of medicine just as we have seen in the past, the digitalization of information technologies and communication. And the implication is exactly the same. We will dramatically begin to reduce the cost of medicine to the point where we can deal with the 45 million uninsured in this country and ultimately to the point where we can export developed world medicine to the underdeveloped world. This will create a true democratization of health care and of medicine and I think will transform the opportunities we have for bringing a better kind of life to many of our citizens.

It is impossible to do this alone. I'd like to thank my wife. I'd like to thank my colleagues and students and especially I'd like to thank all of the many opportunities that I've had to think in new ways about new opportunities. And I think the Heinz Foundation in valuing people that can think out of the box makes a unique contribution to society.

Leroy Hood
Leroy Hood