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Environmental Factor

January 2011

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Woychik named NIEHS deputy director

By Eddy Ball
January 2011

Richard Woychik, Ph.D.

In the scientific world, Woychik has achieved renown for using molecular genetics to identify and study genes involved in a variety of human disorders. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

In a message to employees Dec. 2, NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., announced the appointment of Richard Woychik, Ph.D., as the Institute's deputy director. Woychik, who officially begins work Jan. 30, leaves his current position as president and chief executive officer of The Jackson Laboratory( Exit NIEHS, headquartered in Bar Harbor, Maine with more than 1400 employees.

In her announcement, Birnbaum wrote, "Dr. Woychik brings a wealth of scientific expertise and administrative experience to the role of deputy director of the NIEHS, [and] I have every confidence in his ability to do an extraordinary job in this critical role at the Institute."

For his part, Woychik says he envisions the next phase of his professional life as an opportunity to help set the stage for the environmental sciences community in the post-genome era, the topic of his July 14 interview presentation at NIEHS. "The original genome sequencing," he explains, "while hugely challenging in its own right, was just the first step in understanding human biology and disease. The much more difficult next steps involve unraveling the interaction of genetic and environmental factors in human health in order to prevent and treat disease, and optimize quality of life worldwide."

Birnbaum explained that Woychik's initial efforts will focus on leading the development of a strategic plan for the Institute covering the years 2012 through 2017 - a roadmap for NIEHS initiatives in preventive public health that range from basic research and community-based participatory research to a growing involvement in global health. The deputy director has high-level responsibilities in planning and policy. Woychik will also serve as a prominent spokesperson for the Institute and its mission.

A leading mammalian geneticist with more than 80 publications and many honors to his credit, Woychik completed his B.S. and M.S. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology at Case Western Reserve University. He completed his postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Philip Leder, M.D.( Exit NIEHS, at Harvard Medical School with fellowship support from the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research and from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Woychik has a wide range of scientific and leadership experience in academic, government, and private sector positions that will serve him well in his new role at NIEHS. In addition to his work at The Jackson Laboratory, he served as scientific officer for Lynx Therapeutics; head of the Parke-Davis Laboratory of Molecular Genetics; professor within the Departments of Pediatrics, Genetics and Pharmacology at the Case Western Reserve University; and worked his way up through the ranks over the course of 10 years to become the head of the Mammalian Genetics Section in the Biology Division, and then director of the Office of Functional Genomics at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

During Woychik's nine-year tenure at The Jackson Laboratory, the institution grew significantly. The total operating budget almost doubled from $103.8 million in 2002 to $200.1 million in 2010. The Laboratory completed construction and renovation projects totaling $80 million. And the Laboratory's JAX-West facility in California moved into larger facilities in Sacramento and expanded to more than 100 employees.

His laboratory was the first to clone the agouti gene and to decipher its role in the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, his group went on to identify the first gene associated with polycystic kidney disease and to implicate the protocadherin family in the development of age-related hearing loss. During his time at Lynx Therapeutics, he worked on advancing the early technologies for enabling the Massively Parallel Signature Sequencing (MPSS) next-generation approach for high throughput genome analyses. His current research interests involve using whole genome approaches to better understand how genetics, epigenetics, and, most importantly, the environment impact human health.

Woychik's appointment is another milestone in Birnbaum's quest to build her new leadership team at NIEHS (see related story ( Searches are currently under way for the Institute's scientific director and clinical director.

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