NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Johns Hopkins University geneticist who has been called the “father of modern genetics,” Victor McKusick, died on Tuesday at the age of 86, JHU said.
McKusick founded JHU’s Division of Medical Genetics in 1957, and he was a presence at the university since his days in medical school, which he began in 1943. In 1969, he was one of the first to propose the human genome map.
“Today we have lost a giant,” Johns Hopkins Medicine Dean and CEO Edward Miller said in a statement. “He spent virtually all of his incredible career at Hopkins, but his influence and legacy reach around the world.”
“Dr. McKusick was passionate about all things medical and genetic; his enormous abilities and energies in these areas created an entire field and served and will continue to serve as a model for all of us interested in genetics and medicine,” David Valle, director of the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine, said in a statement.
McKusick died at his home in Towson, Md., due to complications caused by cancer, according to the University.
He originally studied cardiology, but his interest in genetics began with his studies into a rare disorder called Marfan syndrome, which is known for causing heart defects, increased height and long limbs. McKusick found that the complex of systems creating the syndrome was caused by one inherited gene, and that led him to study populations with isolated gene pools, such as the Old Order Amish of Pennsylvania, in order to learn about the genes that are responsible for their inherited abnormalities and disorders.
That research led McKusick to attempt to identify and catalog genes and chromosomes that can lead to multiple conditions.
McKusick also held joint professorships in biology and in epidemiology at the JHU School of Public Health. He led the medical genetics division until 1973, when he became chairman of the Department of Medicine and physician in chief of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. In 1985, he took the post of University Professor of Medical Genetics.
He was an early proponent of mapping the human genome, and his reference book “Mendelian Inheritance in Man” is still a regularly updated and re-printed database of genomic information.
McKusick received the 1997 Lasker Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science, the 2001 National Medal of Science, and the 2008 Japan Prize in Medical Genomics and Genetics. He also was the founding president of the Human Genome Organization and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences.