By Sheena Faherty, Ph.D.
The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) has appointed Carolyn Hutter, Ph.D. the director of the Division of Genome Sciences – the NHGRI division that leads research aiming to understand the function of the human genome in health and disease, and seeks technologies that facilitate genomic discoveries.
Dr. Hutter comes to the position with extensive experience leading large-scale genomics research programs. Most recently, she co-managed The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) – a collaboration between NHGRI and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) – which generated over 2.5 petabytes of publically available genomic data used by the cancer research community to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
“Carolyn has remarkable skills in navigating complex scientific and management challenges with excellent judgement and diplomacy,” said Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D., NHGRI’s director. “We’re delighted to have her at the helm of one of NHGRI’s major extramural research divisions.”
Dr. Hutter’s new appointment marks an important transition for the division as the field of genome science moves towards a fuller understanding of the genomic basis of human disease. She will be responsible for overseeing the funding and support of a diverse research portfolio that continues to build on the foundational information and technologies provided by the Human Genome Project. These research programs are integrating information about disease-causing genomic variants and insights about genome function to generate new knowledge about the biological underpinnings of human health and disease.
“I’m excited to consider new strategic directions for the division that align with the institute’s broader mission,” said Dr. Hutter. “I’m certain that the Division of Genome Sciences will be highly productive in terms of its scientific programs because of the high quality of both our grantees and our program staff.”
Dr. Hutter first began her work in the government in 2012 and, with experience in laboratory-based research, epidemiology and extramural program management, she knows all too well how a better understanding of the human genome will lead to new approaches for studying and treating genetic diseases – a principal mission of NHGRI.
Dr. Hutter’s career path, shared by many in science, has not always been linear. She completed her undergraduate degree in applied math biology at Brown University, and followed that with a Masters in genetics from Cornell University. She then worked in outreach education for several years, before realizing that she missed the atmosphere of academic research. Shortly after that realization, she was accepted at the University of Washington to complete a Ph.D. in epidemiology and a Masters in biostatistics. After graduate school, Dr. Hutter worked at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, where she progressed from postdoctoral fellow to senior staff scientist.
Looking to expand her scientific expertise, Dr. Hutter accepted an appointment as a program director at NCI, at the National Institutes of Health, and managed a research portfolio focused on epidemiology and genome sequencing, which included grants in the Clinical Sequencing Exploratory Research (CSER) program.
She then moved to NHGRI as a program director for the Division of Genomic Medicine, where she continued to work with the CSER program, as well as with TCGA and other programs.
“Working as a program director on large-scale projects taught me the value and rewards that come from being involved in the leadership of consortia,” she said. “They also gave me many opportunities to hone my skills in communication and to work with top-notch scientists both nationally and internationally. I plan to continue to develop those skills in my new position.”
When asked if she’s up to the challenge of filling the shoes of her predecessor, Dr. Jeff Schloss, she points out an important fact.
“I think that the challenge is not to fill Jeff’s shoes because that would be unachievable,” Dr. Hutter said. “I think that what he brought to the division and the institute for over 24 years is a legacy that will be imprinted on our history.”
She hopes to someday have a similar question asked about her after she’s made her mark on NHGRI’s history in her own unique way.
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