Genomics leader David Haussler to advise Chan Zuckerberg science initiative

David Haussler  (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)
David Haussler  (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
stephens@ucsc.edu (Tim Stephens)

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), launched in 2015 by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan with an initial focus on education, has announced that its second major focus will be on basic science research to advance disease prevention and treatment. CZI will make an initial investment of at least $3 billion over the next decade to accelerate medical research.

David Haussler, professor of biomolecular engineering and director of the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz, was among the top scientists and experts who helped shape the initiative's approach and identify opportunities to have a real impact. He is also one of seven influential leaders appointed to a Science Advisory Board for the initiative.

"The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is poised to transform biomedicine with empowering new technology and a new spirit of cooperation," Haussler said.

The initiative's first major investment in basic science research will be the creation of a new independent research center called Biohub. Based at the UCSF Mission Bay campus and formed in partnership with UCSF, UC Berkeley, and Stanford University, the center will serve as a nexus for collaborations between experts across multiple disciplines. Biohub will be led by UCSF biochemist and UC Santa Cruz alumnus Joseph DeRisi and Stanford bioengineer Stephen Quake.

Neurobiologist Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University will provide overall leadership of CZI's science efforts. In announcing the new focus on science, Zuckerberg described three core elements of the initiative's approach:

  • Bringing scientists and engineers together in new ways to tackle major questions in basic science and unlock widespread medical breakthroughs;
  • Building tools and technology that will dramatically scale up what is possible in research today; and
  • Growing the movement to fund science around the world.

Haussler, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, is a pioneer in genomics research and an international leader in efforts to advance genomic medicine. He is a cofounder of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health, an international nonprofit that is helping establish the infrastructure for data sharing in genomic medicine.

As a collaborator on the international Human Genome Project, Haussler's team posted the first publicly available assembly of the human genome sequence online in 2000 and subsequently developed the UCSC Genome Browser, a widely used tool for biomedical researchers. His group's work in cancer genomics includes creating the first public cancer genome database for the National Cancer Institute (CGHub) and collaborations with cancer researchers at medical centers nationally on efforts to discover molecular causes of cancer and pioneer a new personalized, genomics-based approach to cancer treatment.