History of the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences

Genetics has a long and diverse history at Case Western Reserve University. A program in human genetics was established in the 1960s and 1970s in the Department of Biology, under the direction of Dr. Arthur Steinberg. Genetics of model organisms was a major focus of the Department of Developmental Genetics and Anatomy at the School of Medicine in the 1980s, under the leadership of Dr. Anthony P. Mahowald, a distinguished Drosophila geneticist. In the late 1980s, parallel strategic planning processes at the CWRU School of Medicine and at University Hospitals of Cleveland (UHC) both identified human genetics as a top priority area for growth. In July 1988, a Department of Genetics was formed with Dr. Mahowald as its first Chair, and a core group of faculty whose work focused on developmental genetics of C. elegans, Drosophila, and mouse, transferred with Dr. Mahowald into the new department. A number of clinical geneticists joined the department as secondary appointments. A Graduate Training Program in Genetics was established at that time, and the first PhD students were recruited. At the same time, the hospital initiated plans to expand its genetics activities, with strong academic ties to the basic science Department of Genetics, and very signification resources were committed to the development of a major program in human and medical genetics. With the departure of Dr. Mahowald to the University of Chicago in 1990, a new opportunity for recruitment of leadership in genetics arose. Dr. Huntington F. Willard was recruited from Stanford University, and, in July 1992, he became Chairman of the Department of Genetics and Director of a newly established Center for Human Genetics at UHC. 

In the past eight years, there has been a major expansion of activities in all aspects of genetics on the CWRU/UHC campus. After several years of intense recruitment activity in both human genetics and model organism genetics, the number of faculty with primary appointments in the Department of Genetics has increased from 5 at the time of Dr. Willard's recruitment to about 30 in 2000. This includes 8 primary faculty with clinical or clinical laboratory responsibilities in the Center for Human Genetics.

Concomitantly, the Genetics Graduate Training Program has expanded from only a few predoctoral students in 1988 to approximately 50 in 1999-2000. This NIGMS predoctoral training grant was funded beginning in 1996. Other genetics training activities have also grown at CWRU/UHC. A postgraduate training program in medical genetics (leading to certification by the American Board of Medical Genetics) was established in 1993 under the leadership of Dr. Suzanne Cassidy, Professor of Genetics and clinical director of the Center for Human Genetics. A masters-level Genetic Counseling program was established in 1998 and has been an outstanding success, as these students provide a different perspective and enrich the classroom and research experiences of the predoctoral students. These two new programs greatly increase the diversity of our trainee population.

Thus, in the context of a broad-based genetics curriculum and environment involving both basic science and clinical faculty and trainees at all levels, the Graduate Training Program in Genetics at CWRU offers a unique range of opportunities for students. The direct access to clinical material and trainees from the Center for Human Genetics, to new research strategies in human and medical genetics principally as a result of the Human Genome Project, and to modern molecular, genetic, genomic and developmental approaches in a range of organisms affords students an outstanding environment for achievement. Research programs in human genetics, molecular genetics, gene expression, genomics and bioinformatics, developmental genetics, chromosome structure and function, genome mapping and organization, quantitative genetics and human disease are now available to incoming graduate students, thereby providing an opportunity for integrated training in all aspects of genetics in organisms ranging from yeast to C. elegans and Drosophila to mouse and humans.