February 2, 2007

Young investigator named among ‘Tomorrow’s PIs’

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Marylyn Ritchie, Ph.D.

Young investigator named among ‘Tomorrow’s PIs’

Marylyn Ritchie, Ph.D., assistant professor of Molecular Physiology & Biophysics, was selected as one of “Tomorrow's PIs” by the magazine Genome Technology.

In a special issue, the magazine profiled 30 young scientists it deemed to be up-and-coming principal investigators (PIs).

The investigators were selected based on the quality of their existing research in the disciplines that comprise systems biology. They also had to be no more than five years into their first faculty or equivalent position.

These scientists, the editor of Genome Technology wrote, are “the rising stars people should be watching right now.”

Ritchie, an investigator in the Center for Human Genetics Research, was nominated for the distinction by Jonathan Haines, Ph.D., the center's director.

“Genome Technology is a widely read magazine that covers genomics in both the commercial and academic sectors,” Haines said.

“It is quite an honor that Marylyn was selected from a large pool of nominees.”

“I was surprised to find out that I had been selected and grateful to Jonathan for nominating me,” Ritchie said.

“I am truly privileged to work with such outstanding colleagues in the Center for Human Genetics Research.

“We are doing great science that has the potential to change the field of human genetics for the future. It is exciting that our work is being highlighted in such a popular magazine.”

Ritchie's group is developing new computational and statistical methods for analyzing — and making sense of — genetic data.

Her team is using the new methods to identify genes that make a person susceptible to common complex diseases like Alzheimer's disease and depression.

One tool currently in development is known as PLATO — Platform for Analysis, Translation, and Organization of large scale data. It is designed to integrate multiple analytical techniques at the same time.

“The idea is that no one method is going to work best for all data,” Ritchie said. “So we're trying to combine the successes of lots of different groups…so that we can intelligently do analyses of whole genome association data.”

Ritchie is also part of a group of Vanderbilt investigators who submitted a proposal for a National Institutes of Health Genes and Environment Initiative.

“We know that genes don't work in isolation and that the environment plays a large role in their expression,” Ritchie said. “Creating analytical methods to detect gene-environment interactions is a very challenging area.”

Ritchie earned her Ph.D. at Vanderbilt, working with Jason Moore, Ph.D., to develop methods for detecting gene-gene interactions in studies of human diseases. She has been a faculty member since 2004.