Published: Wednesday, July 20, 2022, 10:00 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time
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The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) has named Sir Peter Donnelly, FRS, FMedSci, CEO of Genomics plc and Emeritus Professor of Statistical Science at the University of Oxford as the 2022 recipient of the annual William Allan Award.
The William Allan Award, which carries a $25,000 prize, recognizes substantial and far-reaching scientific contributions to human genetics, and was established in 1961 in memory of William Allan, MD (1881-1943), one of the first American physicians to conduct extensive research on human genetics and hereditary diseases.
“Dr. Donnelly has made extraordinary contributions in our field to improve health and healthcare,” said Charles Rotimi, PhD, president of ASHG. “He has pioneered work in human disease research, transformed the understanding of meiotic recombination, and developed new statistical methods to the benefit of healthcare systems and their patients. In addition, he has been centrally involved in major advances in human genetics over the last 20 years, and in leadership of key projects.”
Dr. Donnelly is a world leader in human genetics whose work has been at the heart of what has been called the genomic revolution. He is an essential leader for many of the most important large-scale genetics projects of the last twenty years, enabling scientific progress on a previously unprecedented scale. He was on the steering committee for the International HapMap Project (and co-Chair of its Analysis Group), and of the 1,000 Genomes Project. Dr. Donnelly also guided the United Kingdom to a leading role in genetics and genomics as Chair of the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium (WTCCC), and its successor WTCCC2, and led the genotyping of UK Biobank. Between 2007 and 2017 he was Director of the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics. In 2014, along with three colleagues, he co-founded Genomics plc to try to ensure their scientific discoveries were translated into practice. The company’s goals were, and remain, to conduct world-leading science and research, and to turn these discoveries into tools that make a difference for patients, clinicians, and healthcare systems – improving outcomes for everyone.
In addition to his impressive leadership roles, a major contribution to the field of genetics is that his methods are extensively used by others. He has made fundamental contributions to developing the mathematical and statistical methods underpinning much of the 21st century population and disease genetics research, which has revolutionized population genetics modelling. This includes some of the field’s key analysis methods including “STRUCTURE,” “PHASE,” “IMPUTE,” and “HLA*IMP,” methods for genotype-phenotype association analysis, genotype calling, and many others. He also co-led a landmark study which used genetics to shed new light on the peopling of the British Isles.
Dr. Donnelly’s group has also made fundamental contributions to our understanding of meiosis and recombination, through both analytical and wet-lab work. They identified 30,000 human recombination hotspots at a time when fewer than 20 had been discovered; developed fine-scale genetic maps; characterized a DNA sequence motif associated with human hotspots (the first in any species); identified PRDM9 as the gene responsible for localizing recombination events; and explained the surprising mechanism underpinning PRDM9’s role as the only known speciation gene in mammals.
In their nomination letter, Prof. Dame Kay E. Davies CBE FRS FMedSci, Professor of Genetics at the University of Oxford and Stephen Leslie, DPhil, Professor of Statistical Genomics at the University of Melbourne said, “Genomic methods are having a huge impact in clinical medicine in at least two different ways. First, insights into human biology and human disease from large-scale genetic studies are leading to new therapeutic targets for many diseases, with many commentators suggesting that genomics will transform the drug development process. Second, the information in an individual patient’s genome will increasingly be used in clinical practice – there will be a billion people sequenced in the next 10-15 years, almost all in medical contexts. Peter’s work lies at the core of these transformative advances.”
Dr. Donnelly is currently the CEO of Genomics plc, a pioneering healthcare company that aims to transform health through the power of genomics. The company, which now employs more than 130 people in the United Kingdom and the U.S., uses an extensive data platform and novel analytical tools in two areas: to understand disease biology and find new drug targets; and to enable a prevention-first approach to managing the common diseases that are the greatest burden for patients and healthcare systems, through powerful disease-risk prediction.
Dr. Donnelly was educated at the University of Queensland in Australia and at Balliol College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
ASHG will recognize this year’s award winners in the weeks prior to the Society’s annual meeting with a series of videos honoring their accomplishments. These videos will also be presented during the meeting, which will be held in Los Angeles on October 25-29.
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About the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG)
Founded in 1948, the American Society of Human Genetics is the primary professional membership organization for human genetics specialists worldwide. Its nearly 8,000 members include researchers, academicians, clinicians, laboratory practice professionals, genetic counselors, nurses, and others with an interest in human genetics. The Society serves scientists, health professionals, and the public by providing forums to: (1) share research results through the ASHG Annual Meeting and in The American Journal of Human Genetics and Human Genetics and Genomics Advances; (2) advance genetic research by advocating for research support; (3) educate current and future genetics professionals, health care providers, advocates, policymakers, educators, students, and the public about all aspects of human genetics; and (4) promote genetic services and support responsible social and scientific policies. For more information, visit: http://www.ashg.org.
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