After eight years at The Institute for Genomic Research, John Quackenbush moved last month to take a dual appointment at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Cambridge. “I’d been looking around to see how I could grow my research,” Quackenbush says, “and [Harvard] had an attractive offer. They have capacities there in bioinformatics, animal models, cancer, human disease — the opportunities there are outstanding.”
The problem with TIGR, from Quackenbush’s perspective, is that the institute focuses primarily on sequencing and annotating microbial genomes — as perhaps they should; they’re good at it. But Quackenbush’s work in bioinformatics software is “rather divorced from looking at microbes,” he says. Furthermore, TIGR lacks a neighboring university or hospital, he adds.
At Harvard, Quackenbush’s appointment in the School of Public Health is in the biostatistics department, where he says he’ll help serve as a nucleus to bring in new faculty. The department isn’t looking for faculty with one particular type of skill set, Quackenbush says, but rather for talented people with expertise in subjects as varied as molecular modeling, gene expression and proteomics data analysis, and genome sequencing and analysis. Cancer will be a major focus of his software-generating efforts, he says, but his work will touch on a broader range of health issues, including tuberculosis and HIV.
Quackenbush is excited about the greater access to clinical material he’ll have at Harvard, and about the lab space to perform wet lab experiments — especially for someone with an appointment in the biostatistics department. “It was funny for someone like me to have to take an occupational health screen at Dana-Farber,” he says. “People were asking me, ‘Why are you going to be working with tissue samples and blood?’” he says with a laugh.
— John S. MacNeil