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Of Mice and Men: Edison Liu Leaves Singapore to Head Jackson Laboratory

By Bio-IT World Staff  

August 26, 2011 | Edison Liu, arguably the most prominent medical researcher in Singapore and the two-term president of the Human Genome Organization (HUGO), is returning to the United States after ten years to become the new president and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. 

Liu will take up his new post in January 2012, succeeding Rick Woychik, who departed in early 2011 for a post as deputy director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C. 

Liu is the founding executive director of the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), which over the past decade he has built into an internationally recognized institute of 27 laboratory groups nearly 300 staff. Liu is often referred to as the first “whale” – a term for talented foreign scientists -- recruited to Singapore, and is credited with being a driving force in the creation of the Biopolis research center.  

Liu’s appointment, which was first reported by newspapers in Singapore, was announced at The Jackson Lab’s annual meeting in Maine. The Jackson Lab trustees say they hope Liu will assist the Laboratory in translating its basic research discoveries, primarily conducted in mouse models, into clinical medicine.  

“Ed Liu, with his outstanding background in basic research, clinical medicine and genomics, is the ideal leader for The Jackson Laboratory,” said outgoing Board of Trustees chair Brian Wruble.  

Newly elected Board Chair Leo Holt said, “The Jackson Laboratory is a dynamic pivot point at the intersection of mammalian and human genetics. [Ed Liu’s] talents run broad and deep, and his leadership is a great addition to the team that leads the search for tomorrow's cures.” 

In a statement, Liu said the vision of the Jackson Lab’s leadership and the talent of the scientists and staff were “compelling attractors.” He continued: “Despite the economic challenges, these are remarkable times scientifically. I am looking forward to learning from my new colleagues and sharing with them my perspective in human biology and in global science.” 

Born in Hong Kong in 1952, Liu received his undergraduate and medical training at Stanford University. He served his internship and residency at Washington University’s Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, and has held posts at the University of California, San Francisco, University of North Carolina, where he specialized in cancer but held faculty positions in medicine, epidemiology, biochemistry and biophysics.
For five years, he was the scientific director of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Clinical Sciences, where he managed the intramural clinical research arm of the NCI. In 2001, he was recruited as the executive director for the new GIS in Singapore, where he helped expand the region's genomic research, infrastructure. Over the past decade, GIS has built a strong research program in functional genomics, computational biology, population genetics and systems biology.

In Singapore, Liu played major roles in the development of that country's R&D landscape.  He initiated and managed the Singapore Cancer Syndicate; he was the executive director for the Singapore Tissue Network; and was an early member of the Bioethics Advisory Committee, which advised Singapore's cabinet on matters relating to research ethics.  

While funding in Singapore is famously generous, some scientists here say they are being pressured to get more economic bang for their research buck and that they are increasingly frustrated with the red tape involved in getting hold of such money.  

In earlier reports in the Singapore press, Liu suggested that there have been disagreements over the funding of academic versus applied research. Funding agencies were trying to dictate what “the balance between basic and clinical sciences should be, and what the optimal technology transfer and commercialisation strategies should be,” he told the Strait Times.  

Senior scientists in Singapore have warned of a “whale migration” if scientists' complaints are not heard. Two prominent American scientists, the husband-and-wife team of Neal Copeland and Nancy Jenkins, recently decided to leave their posts at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology and take up a new position as co-directors of a basic cancer research program at the Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Houston, Texas.  

One senior figure in Singapore science referred to Liu’s imminent departure as “a great loss.”  

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