$500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize awarded
LEROY HOOD, M.D., Ph.D.
Inventor of Automated DNA Sequencer
Transformed Scientific Landscape and Played a Key Role in the Human
BOSTON, MA, April 24, 2003—The annual $500,000 Lemelson-MIT
Prize—the world's largest single cash prize for invention—is
being presented today to Dr. Leroy (Lee) Hood, president and co-founder
of the Institute for Systems Biology, a non-profit research institute
dedicated to applying systems biology to identify strategies for
predicting and preventing diseases. The Lemelson-MIT Program is
honoring Hood, 64, for his vision and inventions, which have permanently
changed the course of biology, and revolutionized the understanding
of genetics, life and human health.
Hood invented four instruments that have unlocked much of the mystery
of human biology, including the automated DNA sequencer—which
is the key technology for large-scale, high-speed sequencing of
human genomes. The DNA sequencer was central to the emergence of
the Human Genome Project, a ground-breaking effort launched in 1990
to map and sequence the three billion letters that compose the human
genome. Other notable instruments include a powerful device for
sequencing proteins, a machine for synthesizing proteins and an
automated tool for synthesizing DNA.
"No single person has done more to create the genomics era
than Leroy Hood," said Michael E. Phelps, Ph.D., professor
and chair, Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at the
University of California School of Medicine, in his recommendation
letter. "…He has not only done great science, but has
created new science through which many will create new knowledge
to the benefit of all mankind."
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Hood's life's work has been defined by two fundamental beliefs,
instilled in him while a doctoral candidate at the California Institute
of Technology (Caltech) by his mentor William Dreyer: always practice
biology at the leading-edge; and if you really want to change biology,
develop a new technology for pushing back the frontiers of biological
Under Dreyer's direction, Hood learned how to sequence proteins,
a process that determines the order of the 20 amino acids that make
up a protein. Along with Dreyer, Hood sequenced antibody proteins
found in tumors to study the problem of antibody diversity, the
human body's ability to produce billions of different antibodies
to fight disease. This led to their discovery of one of the most
radical theories ever proposed in biology—antibody proteins
are encoded by two distinct genes, explaining in part the versatility
of the immune system. This poised Hood to focus his future on applying
cross-disciplinary solutions, biology and technology, to unravel
the mystery of antibody diversity.
THE PROTEIN SEQUENCER and SYNTHESIZER
As a faculty member at Caltech, Hood and his team of biologists
and technologists were dedicated to understanding the link between
disease and the three major types of biological information: DNA,
proteins and biological systems. Their initial focus was to develop
powerful technology that enabled the “reading” or sequencing
of proteins that were previously invisible to biologists, due to
their small quantities. In collaboration with colleague Michael
Hunkapiller, Hood developed the gas liquid phase protein sequencer
(1980). This tool was 100 times more sensitive than its predecessors,
enabling Hood's lab to discover for the first time the chemical
makeup of many important proteins, such as erythropoietin, a hormone
that treats anemia by stimulating the production of red blood cells.
In order to understand how proteins operate, Hood's laboratory
took this concept a step further and created the protein synthesizer
(1984). This instrument assembles long peptides from amino acid
subunits, making it possible to produce high volumes of proteins
in order to run experiments on them. Together with drug company
Merck & Co., Hood's colleague Stephen Kent used the machine
to synthesize and purify a protein that became the basis of one
of the most effective AIDS drugs, the protease inhibitor.
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THE DNA SYNTHESIZER and SEQUENCER
In the early 1980s, Hood and Hunkapiller, along with colleague
Susan Horvath, astutely predicted the importance of automating the
process for synthesizing DNA gene fragments and developed the first
DNA synthesizer. This machine, about the size and shape of a microwave
oven, strings together fragments of genes to manufacture DNA for
use in DNA mapping and gene cloning, and also made possible the
polymerase chain reaction—a technique for amplifying DNA fragments
Continuing his work at Caltech, Hood and Hunkapiller worked with
Lloyd Smith to complete the most sophisticated of the four instruments—the
DNA sequencer (1986). This machine rapidly determines the order
of the four letters across the 24 strings of DNA by labeling the
four DNA letters with laser-activated fluorescent dyes in red, green,
blue or orange. The DNA sequences are then interpreted by a computer.
This machine—after 15 years of incremental improvements—made
DNA sequencing 3,000 times faster, facilitating the Human Genome
Project, for which Hood was an early advocate and key player.
Systems biology emerged out of three forces: the Internet, the
Human Genome Project and cross-disciplinary science. A systems approach
to biology analyzes a living thing as a whole, rather than one gene
or one protein at a time. According to Hood, it holds the secret
to understanding diseases at the molecular level which will have
a profound effect on the practice of medicine within the next 10
to 15 years. In 2000, Hood and two colleagues recognized the need
to formalize the study of systems biology, and founded the Institute
for Systems Biology.
Hood predicts that the practice of medicine will shift from today's
reactive approach—diagnosing or treating a disease after it
has manifested itself—to a predictive and preventive approach.
Predictive medicine will enable the detection of genes that predispose
humans to disease, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease; while
preventive medicine will enable the isolation of the problem gene,
and design medicine to block the effects of the defective gene.
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REFORMING SCIENCE EDUCATION
In naming Hood as this year's $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize winner,
Professor Merton Flemings, Director of the Lemelson-MIT Program
says, "He is not only a pioneer that has changed the course
of biology, but also a mentor with a true dedication to getting
K-12 students interested and excited about science."
Hood, in collaboration with the Seattle School District, has implemented
a systemic science education reform, establishing one of the most
outstanding K-12 science programs in the nation. The ultimate goal,
according to Hood, is to produce citizens who are thoughtful, informed
and capable of inquiry-based thinking—and perhaps even interested
in pursuing a career in science.
Hood received a B.S. in Biology from CalTech (1960), a M.D. from
Johns Hopkins University (1964) and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from
Caltech (1968). Hood, the recipient of nearly 60 academic and professional
honors including the Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology (2002)
and the Lasker Award for Studies on Immune Diversity (1987), holds
12 patents and has co-authored more than 40 books or book chapters.
In addition to the Institute for Systems Biology, he has founded
or co-founded more than 10 companies, including Applied Biosystems
and Amgen, that commercialize technologies.
Previous recipients of the annual $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize
include Dean Kamen, inventor of break-through medical technologies,
such as the Segway Human Transporter (HT)—the first self-balancing
personal transporter for short-distance travel; Raymond Kurzweil,
futurist and developer of pattern recognition technologies; and
Thomas Fogarty, surgical pioneer and inventor of the embolectomy
balloon catheter. Hood will be formally presented with the Lemelson-MIT
Prize the evening of Thursday, April 24, 2003 at a special invitation-only
ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston, MA.
Click here for more information on Dr. Hood.
ABOUT THE LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM
Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge,
MA, the Lemelson-MIT Program was established in 1994 by the late
independent inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy. The
Program's mission is to raise the stature of inventors and innovators
and to foster invention and innovation among young people. It accomplishes
this by celebrating inventor/innovator role models through outreach
activities and annual awards, including the world's largest for
invention—the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. The Lemelson-MIT
Program is funded by The Lemelson Foundation, which supports other
invention initiatives at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American
History, Hampshire College, the National Collegiate Inventors and
Innovators Alliance and the University of Nevada, Reno.
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