Leroy Hood: Discovery Science

Biotech guru Leroy Hood leads researchers in a new direction

Mary Beth Gardiner
Published: February, 2003

Photo by Brian Smale
For his honeymoon, Leroy Hood planned to take his new wife on a 110-mile trek across five mountains. Eager to please, Valerie Logan strapped on her new backpack, a wedding gift from a friend, and fell in step beside him. By the end of the second day, they hadn’t reached the lake where they intended to camp before night began to fall. With only craggy ground as far as the eye could see, Hood made his decision: they would turn off-trail and head uphill, through the woods, to get to the campsite faster. They bushwhacked up the side of the mountain, struggling over rocks and past grasping branches as the darkness deepened.

Considering the events of the lifetime that has unfolded since that honeymoon trip, the decision made by the 24-year-old newlywed on the trail that summer night is vintage Lee Hood. The tenacity of this physician-scientist, called by some the father of biotechnology, is evident in a career marked by ground-breaking innovations in biological instrumentation and analysis, and by his bellwether efforts to shift responsibility for scientific discovery from individuals to cross-disciplinary, interactive groups.

Along the way he has directed a number of large and productive research labs; helped to found 11 companies, Applied Biosystems and Amgen being two of his earlier efforts; and patented a dozen inventions. Hood has co-authored more than 500 scientific articles and textbooks, and won numerous honors – among them the Lasker Award and Kyoto Prize, known, respectively, as the American and Japanese equivalents of the Nobel Prize.

His motivations often misunderstood, Hood’s maverick tendencies have won him both praise and criticism. His detractors see him as solely a technologist, one who has too closely aligned himself with the business world. His colleagues know him as a visionary, but also a realist—a practical man with a practical purpose.

Hood says the inspiration behind his fervor is simple. “I’m interested in making things better for the world.”

The hum of Hood’s ideas and values has reached a crescendo in the Institute for Systems Biology. This innovative research center, established two years ago in Seattle, Wash., is dedicated to the integration of biology, computation, and technology as a means of furthering the fundamental revolution that is taking place in medicine, the move toward predictive and preventive medicine.

Within 10 to 15 years, Hood forecasts, physicians will be able to predict a person’s predisposition for disease based on his or her genetic makeup. And not long after that, they will understand the biological networks within which the defective genes reside, and be able to block the harmful effects.

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