Howard Jacob, PhD
Genomics and common human disease
“Genomic medicine is a team sport,” says Howard Jacob, PhD.
As a faculty investigator and the executive vice president for genomic medicine at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Jacob is leading a team that is finding ways to change people’s lives.
In his research, Jacob verifies that specific DNA changes cause disease, especially for undiagnosed conditions. And he wants to find a way to pinpoint those genetic conditions fast enough to benefit a patient.
“Science is inherently slow and methodical, which is great,” he says. “But not if you’re trying to help a sick patient.”
Then Jacob adds his research to work from other HudsonAlpha investigators, bringing genome sequencing, data analysis and basic research together to make a diagnosis possible. “My role is to integrate these researchers that are doing fabulous work independently and create space for them to not only do world class science individually but also contribute to a larger team,” Jacob says. “It’s one part participant, one part coach, one part motivator.”
Jacob received his PhD in pharmacology from the University of Iowa in 1989. He completed his postdoctoral work at Harvard, Stanford and MIT. Before joining HudsonAlpha in 2015, Jacob was the founding director of the Human and Molecular Genetics Center and a professor in the departments of physiology and pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) in Milwaukee for nearly 20 years.
At MCW, Jacob led a team that was the first in the world to successfully use DNA sequencing to identify and treat an unknown disease in a patient. That experienced saved the patient’s life and changed Jacob’s. “I always believed genomics was going to improve medicine,” he says. “But it went from being a dream to being a passion. I’m frustrated that we’re not helping more people today, when I know we could be changing lives. The good news is that we are going to be changing lives, and changing medicine, through genomics.”