Dr. Leroy Hood, referred to by Fortune Magazine as the man who automated biology, is recognized as one of the world’s leading scientists in molecular biotechnology and genomics. He joins a long list of Montanans who have become significant figures in the biosciences industry globally.
Born in Missoula, MT in 1938, Dr. Hood grew up and attended high school in Shelby. Both his father, an electrical engineer, and grandfather who managed the Beartooth Geologic Research Camp, instilled in him a love for science. A high school science project won him the honor of being selected a finalist in the 1956 Westinghouse Science Talent Search. As he recalls, “This was a big deal. Shelby, Montana, had never had anything like that happen before. When I left to go to Washington, the high school band came down and played.”
Dr. Hood went on to receive an undergraduate degree in biology from California Institute of Technology (1960), an M.D. from John Hopkins University in 1964 and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1968. He has been the recipient of many internationally recognized awards.
What has distinguished Dr. Hood’s life as a visionary scientist has been driven by the conviction that the needs of frontier biology should drive the selection of technologies to be developed, and once a new technology is developed these technologies can revolutionize biology and medicine. He tells a story that when he attended Caltech in 1970, he told the chair, “I want to spend half my time doing technology development.”
After three years the chair came to me and said, “I advise you in the strongest possible terms to give this up.” Twenty years later, he told me that was because his senior faculty felt it was inappropriate to have engineering in a biology department. But, I went on and did it and it worked very well.
Dr. Hood’s research has focused on the study of molecular immunology, biotechnology, and genomics and in developing several instruments, which constitute the technological foundation for modern molecular biology and genomics. He has applied these technologies to diverse fields including immunology, neurobiology, cancer biology, molecular evolution, and systems medicine. In addition, he has also played a role in founding numerous biotechnology companies, including Amgen, Applied Biosystems, Systemix, Darwin, Rosetta, and MacroGenics.
His vision in recent years has focused on what he refers to as P4 medicine. Over the next 15-20 years, he believes health care will move from its current largely reactive state to one that is predictive, that is personalized, that is eventually preventive and participatory.
In 2000, Dr. Hood co-founded the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, WA to pioneer systems approaches to biology and medicine. He serves as President of the Institute and continues to pursue his interest in biology, medicine, technology, development, and computational biology.
Earlier this year Ohio State University approved a two-year collaboration with the Institute to carry the P4 idea forward. Ohio State provides a group of 55,000 insured employees and family members who could enroll in clinical trials, plus a group of physicians motivated to be on the front line of personalized medicine. The Institute for Systems Biology will contribute a cutting-edge analysis of genes and proteins from samples so the physicians can gather useful information to monitor patients and guide their wellness.
The vision is that instead of waiting for clinical symptoms to appear, as a tumor spotted on an X-ray after it’s too late, physicians will eventually be able to see early warning signs of malignancies from a pinprick of blood analyzed by genomic instruments and software. If the genes and proteins are truly predictive, then doctors could take early action, or people could adjust their lifestyles accordingly to prevent disease.