GW hires top biology researcher to lead new institute

Keith Crandall, Brigham Young University's biology department chair, will head up GW's Computational Biology Institute starting July 1. Photo courtesy of the Office of Media Relations

A research center that Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa called a top priority in 2009 now has its first director.

Keith Crandall, chair of the biology department at Brigham Young University, will steer GW’s Computational Biology Institute as it gets off the ground this fall. After an 18-month director search, the University announced Crandall’s hire Monday. He will start the job July 1.

“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,” Crandall said in a release. “With the exceptional faculty and outstanding leadership at GW, the institute is sure to be a huge success. I can’t wait to get started.”

Once it moves beyond its developmental stage, the research center will weave biology with computer science to study the data found in genetic mapping and DNA sequencing. The institute, to be housed on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus, will have an interdisciplinary focus – a research strategy trumpeted by GW administrators and researchers.

Chalupa pointed to computational biology as a key research area when he took on his role as the University’s first chief research officer in 2009. In May, the Board of Trustees also set aside $3.1 million for the coming fiscal year to hire research-oriented faculty in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

“I believe Dr. Crandall’s recruitment as the founding director of the Computational Biology Institute will be the driving force toward more cross-campus research in many fields, including computer science, evolutionary biology and personalized medicine,” Chalupa said in the release.

Crandall boasts several research credentials, including a distinction as a “highly cited” researcher by Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge in 2010, which only one-half of 1 percent of all publishing scholars receive. Two GW researchers got the nod that year.

His research on how oil spills affect crustaceans is a key piece of a $6-million Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative – money that he will bring with him to GW. He also earned a $350,000 grant from the National Science Foundation last month that will outline the first comprehensive “tree of life” for all 1.8 million named species.

Chalupa has said hiring researchers who bring significant grant money to the University was critical to boost its reputation as a premier research university.

That grant money will also be important for Science and Engineering Hall funding. A December report from Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz projected a $55-million net increase in indirect cost recoveries from research grants, which compensate the University for lab and equipment use, to pay for the $275-million building through 2022.

The Office of the Vice President for Research is also trying to play catch-up to launch an autism research institute – trying to raise $10 million for the project.

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