Richard M. Myers is currently the Chairman and the Stanford W. Ascherman Professor at the Department of Genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine. Since 2005, he has served on the Scientific Advisory Board of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, an emerging non-profit research institute with close partnerships with biotechnology companies in Huntsville Alabama. He was offered and accepted the position of Director of HudsonAlpha, and has been actively involved in building the institute with its founder, Jim Hudson. He will take over the position of Director full time in July 2008.
Dr. Myers received his B.S. in Biochemistry at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa in 1977, and then attended graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned his Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 1982. He then did his postdoctoral research at Harvard University, finishing in late 1985. In all three of these positions, Dr. Myers received training in the theory and practice of scientific research, specializing in understanding the molecular basis of fundamental processes of cells of living beings, such as how cells grow, respond to the environment, and make up a complete organism. It was during his postdoctoral work that he first became interested in an area of research called human genetics, a field in which basic discoveries were beginning to have immediate impact on disease and health in people.
In early 1986, he began his first position as a faculty member as an Assistant Professor at the University of California at San Francisco, and there, he devoted his entire research effort towards learning how to find the genetic causes of diseases that people get because they inherit them from their parents. This was at a time when scientists were first learning how to find disease genes and to use them to help understand, diagnose, and ultimately, develop therapies for disorders that were previously hard to treat. Because there were some early successes with new technologies to find these genes, the Human Genome Project was conceived and begun in 1990, and Dr. Myers’s laboratory was chosen as one of the first four genome centers to map and sequence the human genome.
In 1993, Dr. Myers moved his laboratory and genome center to the Department of Genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine, an institution that had a long history in human genetics research and that had embraced the Human Genome Project at its inception. Dr. Myers was promoted to Full Professor in 1996, continued to be the Director of the Stanford Human Genome Center, and took the position as Chair of the Department of Genetics in 2002. He received an endowed chair, and is currently the Stanford W. Ascherman Professor at Stanford.
During the 15 years he has been at Stanford, Dr. Myers and his laboratory have been at the forefront of research and applications in human genetics and genomics. His lab contributed to the identification of several genes responsible for diseases in humans, including a gene responsible for a form of childhood epilepsy, a key gene involved in the development of the cerebellum in the brain, a gene responsible for in the most common form of skin cancer, genes involved in heart disease, and the gene that is mutated in hemochromatosis, a common disease in which cells become overloaded with iron. He is particularly interested in the role of genes in brain disorders and cancer, and has several ongoing projects to study Parkinson disease, bipolar disease, schizophrenia, and brain and other cancers. In several of these cases, identifying the genes has led to greatly improved diagnosis, allowing early detection and treatment, and in the case of the epilepsy gene, the DNA diagnosis allows physicians to choose the safest and most effective drug to treat this particular form of epilepsy.
In addition to his disease research, Dr. Myers laboratory was one of the first four genome centers established in 1990 at the initiation of the Human Genome Project, a gigantic international effort that ultimately including more than a thousand researchers. Dr. Myers’s genome center was responsible for determining the DNA sequence of three of the 23 human chromosomes, corresponding to more than 10% of our genetic makeup. In addition to sequencing, his genome center was responsible for performing a rigorous, independent quality control analysis of the remaining 90% of the sequence. Having the sequence of the human genome has had a major transformative effect on biomedical research, greatly accelerating basic discoveries while leading to many important health advances, including both diagnosis and treatment of disease. Equally important, the Human Genome Project spurred enormous technological innovations, so that it is becoming possible to understand humans and other organisms at an unprecedented and unimagined level of detail.
Supported by the U. S. Department of Energy, Dr. Myers’s group continues to do high-throughput DNA sequencing, contributing to the sequencing of the genomes for more than 40 organisms, most of which are of importance in global energy, agriculture and environmental problems. He was involved in the initial planning and execution stages of the HGP, and helped to establish the key principles and policy of rapid and free availability of data to all the world’s researchers. This policy and the large amount of DNA sequence that has emanated from all of the genome projects has had a major transformative effect on almost all biology research, providing biologists with massive amounts of high-quality sequence data for functional, biomedical and evolutionary biology analyses.
Another major interest of Dr. Myers’s laboratory is developing and using genomics tools to understand functions of human genes, particularly at the level of gene regulation. His laboratory has developed and applied high-throughput methods, including chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP), mRNA expression profiling, transcriptional promoter and methylation measurements, and computational and statistical tools to study human biology. His group is part of the ENCODE Consortium, which has the goal of identifying and understanding all the functional elements in the human genome. With Dr. Barbara Wold and her laboratory at Caltech, the Myers lab developed ChIPSeq, a method that uses ultra-high throughput sequencing to identify comprehensively sites in the genome bound by transcription factors in living cells. His group also developed a similar approach, called MethylSeq, to measure the methylation status at almost every CpG island in the human genome. He collaborates with Dr. Wold’s lab not only as part of the ENCODE Project, but is also using these methods to study particular transcription factors and networks of factors to study interesting human biological problems.
Dr. Myers’s research contributions have resulted in more than 190 publications and have been recognized by a Searle Scholar Award (1987-1990), a Pritzker Foundation Award (2002), a Wills Foundation Award (1996-2003) and an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the University of Alabama (2005). He was on the editorial board of the journal Human Molecular Genetics from 1992-2000, the Board of Directors of the American Society of Human Genetics from 1997-2001, a member and chair of the Genome Research Review Committee, National Human Genome Research Institute from 1998-2002, a member and chair of the HapMap Advisory Committee from 2002-2006, a member of the Advisory Council for the NHGRI from 2003-2006, and as a contributor to numerous editorial, scientific society, and governmental review panels. He currently serves on more than a dozen groups, including serving as an editor of the journal Genome Research, a founding member of the Stanford Genetics/San Jose Tech Museum Science Education Partnership, and a member of the Coordinating Committee for Prioritization of Sequencing Targets for the NHGRI.
In addition to research, Dr. Myers is actively involved in teaching and service. He participates in a wide variety of teaching, educational outreach, and institutional and national service activities. He teaches several courses in genetics and genomics to undergraduate, medical and graduate students, and has a special interest in teaching science to non-science majors. He helped established a partnership between the Department of Genetics at Stanford and the San Jose Tech Museum (“Stanford at the Tech”, see http://genetics.stanford.edu/techmuseum/), which helps to develop scientific exhibits as well as providing a venue for training graduate students in the art of teaching to the public. In addition, he directs a variety of teaching activities for the local schools, from the primary level through the junior college level, as well as for a number of laygroups; these include lectures, organized tours of his genome center, laboratory exercises, and curriculum development. He is particularly interested in increasing and nurturing diversity in the scientific community, and is active in several programs involved with under-represented groups at the graduate school level and earlier. Many of these same activities have already been established as a key component of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.