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Cox to lead trans-institutional genetics efforts

Nov. 6, 2014, 10:13 AM

Nancy J. Cox, Ph.D., professor of Medicine and Human Genetics and chief of the Section of Genetic Medicine at the University of Chicago, has been appointed founding director of a new genetics institute at Vanderbilt University, effective Jan. 1, 2015.

Nancy J. Cox, Ph.D.

Cox, whose work has helped characterize the genetic component to disorders ranging from diabetes to autism, will be professor of Genetics and also will direct the Division of Genetic Medicine in the Department of Medicine.

Her recruitment was the completion of a yearlong national search by a committee led by Nancy J. Brown, M.D., Hugh J. Morgan Professor  and chair of the Department of Medicine, and Roger Cone, Ph.D., Joe C. Davis Professor of Biomedical Science and chair of the Department of Molecular Physiology & Biophysics.

The Vanderbilt Genetics Institute will bring together diverse investigators from across the campus and will utilize Vanderbilt’s biobank, BioVU, one of the leading genetic repositories in the country with more than 190,000 DNA samples.

“I want to welcome Dr. Cox to the Vanderbilt family. I am excited by her vision and know she is the right individual to lead this important new trans-institutional research program,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“I also want to express my appreciation to Drs. Brown and Cone and the other distinguished members of the search committee for their time and efforts to identify such an outstanding candidate.”

Cox earned her Ph.D. in human genetics from Yale University in 1982, and did postdoctoral work at Washington University and the University of Pennsylvania before joining the University of Chicago faculty in 1987.

Named a Pritzker Scholar at the University of Chicago in 2012, Cox is a former editor of the journal Genetic Epidemiology and a former board member of the American Society of Human Genetics.

“Everyone who met with Nancy during her visits was impressed with the breadth of her interests and her ability to integrate elements from across campus into a vision for genetics at Vanderbilt,” said Lawrence Marnett, Ph.D., Mary Geddes Stahlman Professor of Cancer Research, University Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry, associate vice chancellor for Research and senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences.

“She is the type of leader who will bring colleagues together to create novel scientific, clinical and educational opportunities,” Marnett said.

“Genetics is embedded in everything we do,” Brown added. “We are very fortunate to have landed a leader like Nancy who can really pull together all that we’re doing.”

The establishment of the new institute acknowledges Vanderbilt’s strength in the field — more than 150 current grants focused on genetics with direct and indirect costs approaching $50 million.

That, along with BioVU and Vanderbilt’s “preeminence” in biomedical informatics, pharmacogenomics and cancer, “opens up a fabulous opportunity … for a leading geneticist to step into a community that has incredible strength in the field,” Cone said.

Committee members and their primary departments included Ellen Wright Clayton, M.D., J.D. (Pediatrics); Dana Crawford, Ph.D. (Molecular Physiology & Biophysics); James Crowe Jr., M.D. (Pediatrics); Ronald Emeson, Ph.D. (Pharmacology); and Kevin Johnson, M.D. (chair, Biomedical Informatics).

Others were Simon Mallal, MBBS (Medicine); Dan Roden, M.D. (Medicine); Antonis Rokas, Ph.D. (Biological Sciences); Yu Shyr, M.D., Ph.D. (Biostatistics); James Sutcliffe, Ph.D. (Molecular Physiology & Biophysics); and Wei Zheng, M.D., Ph.D., MPH (Medicine).

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