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GW announces creation of Computational Biology Institute to conduct integrated research

Keith Crandall, a renowned biologist and population geneticist, has been named founding director of the George Washington University Computational Biology Institute. This newly created position will further strengthen GW's role as a leader in science and research in the region and nationally.

As director, Dr. Crandall will define the scientific vision of the Computational Biology Institute and direct the development and implementation of research plans and organizational structures, with the goal of hiring new faculty as well as integrating existing faculty and resources across the university. He will also serve as professor of biology.

"This is the beginning of a true interdisciplinary initiative at George Washington that I expect will positively impact virtually all colleges and schools," said Leo Chalupa, vice president of research at GW. "I believe that Dr. Crandall's recruitment as the founding director of the Computational Biology Institute will be the driving force towards more cross-campus research in many fields including computer science, evolutionary biology and personalized medicine." Personalized medicine is a medical model in healthcare that allows practitioners to tailor medical decisions to the individual patient using genetic or other information.

The George Washington University is one of the first universities to establish an institute dedicated to computational biology. The institute will focus on large-scale integrative bioinformatics and genomics. Informatics are used to answer important biological questions using massive amounts of data, including genetic and molecular data. Many disciplines are becoming more data-intensive, creating a need for the development of new computational tools and approaches that aid in the integration, interpretation and understanding of complex datasets.

To meet this challenge, the institute will foster creation of new positions in computational biology research, enhancing and synergizing disciplines at George Washington such as the biological, biophysical and biomedical sciences as well as computation disciplines such as computer science, math and statistics. The institute will also build upon existing partnerships with regional research centers of excellence, including Children's National Medical Center, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Janelia Farm, INOVA hospital system, Naval Research Laboratory, Virginia Tech-Arlington and the National Institutes Health intramural research program.

"I feel it a great honor to join the George Washington University faculty and direct the new Computational Biology Institute," said Dr. Crandall. "We have an amazing opportunity in this new genomics era to be world leaders in developing and implementing computational approaches to broad questions from biodiversity crisis issues to translational medicine. With the exceptional faculty and outstanding leadership at GW, the institute is sure to be a huge success."

Dr. Crandall comes to George Washington from Brigham Young University where he has served as a faculty member since 1996 and chair of the biology department since 2007. He is a recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Young Investigator Award, the National Science Foundation Career Award, the National Institutes of Health James A. Shannon Director's Award and a Fulbright Scholar Award to Oxford University. He is past president of the Society of Systematic Biologists.

A recipient of more than $18 million in grant funds, Dr. Crandall brings to George Washington two grant awards. He is the lead investigator and one of 11 researchers from 10 institutions across the country working on a component of the ground-breaking "Open Tree of Life" project funded by the National Science Foundation. Dr. Crandall also is serving as part of a team of researchers studying the affects of the BP oil spill on coastal ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico.

The George Washington University Computational Biology Institute will be located at the university's Virginia Science and Technology Campus (VSTC) in Ashburn, Va. A second "wet" lab will be housed at Children's National Medical Center.

"One could not imagine a better field to fit the research and educational profile of VSTC," said Ali Eskandarian, dean of GW's Virginia Science and Technology Campus. "The spirit of the campus embodies inter- and multi-disciplinary research that while cutting edge on the discovery front also has the potential for applications to the larger technological and scientific challenges of the society.

"The addition of computational biology to VSTC with such fertile grounds for innovation and discovery brings a new source of vitality to the campus and will play a key role in ushering a new era of growth and activity for the university. The potential for discoveries and growth in this field is enormous."

A prolific researcher, Dr. Crandall publishes an average of 10 to 12 papers a year and has published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers. In 2010, he was designated a "Highly Cited" researcher, a distinction reserved for the top one-half of one percent of all publishing scholars. Dr. Crandall is among the 250 most-cited researchers in the category of "Ecology/Environment" rated by the ISI Web of Knowledge database. He has written 21 papers that have been cited more than 100 times each on subjects ranging from the evolution of HIV to the biogeography of Australian crayfish.

Dr. Crandall has a Ph.D. in population and evolutionary biology and an M.A. in statistics, both from Washington University in St. Louis. He has a B.A. in biology and mathematics from Kalamazoo College.

"Those of us at GW who are interested in employing computational analysis to understand complex biological systems are very excited about Dr. Keith Crandall joining our faculty," said L. Courtney Smith, search committee co-chair and professor of biology. "We in the Department of Biology in particular, are looking forward to initiating scientific interactions with Dr. Crandall that augment our research and expand our funding capabilities."


Contact: Latarsha Gatlin
George Washington University

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