Hypertension Expert Appointed Head of Genetics Department

Richard P. Lifton, M.D., Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator whose pioneering research in hypertension has led to the identification of more than a dozen genes that regulate blood pressure, has been appointed chair of the Department of Genetics at the Yale School of Medicine.

Lifton will preside over a department of 28 full-time faculty members, 58 postdoctoral fellows and associates and 45 graduate students, including a number of the most distinguished scientists in modern genetics. “What makes Rick an outstanding choice for this job is his great ability to bridge the worlds of basic science and clinical medicine,” said Dean David A. Kessler, M.D. “That is increasingly important in an era when laboratory discoveries are being translated for the benefit of patients more quickly than ever before.”

A native of Washington, D.C., Lifton is a 1975 graduate of Dartmouth College and holds M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford University, where he worked in the laboratory of molecular geneticist David Hogness. While at Stanford, he and fellow graduate student Michael Goldberg discovered a short DNA sequence, known as the TATA box, that regulates the initiation of gene transcription in all higher organisms.

Lifton spent four years as resident and chief resident in medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, then three years collaborating with HHMI investigator Jean-Marc Lalouel, M.D., D.Sc., in Utah, where he identified the first known gene affecting the regulation of human blood pressure. Since then, Lifton and members of his research team have identified a dozen genes that either raise or lower blood pressure by influencing how the kidney handles salt.

He came to the Yale faculty from Harvard as an assistant professor of medicine in 1993, and was promoted to associate professor in 1994 and professor in 1997. His discoveries in the genetics of hypertension, which established the field, hold the promise of new generations of safer, more effective medications for a disease affecting more than 50 million people in the United States alone.

Established in 1972 as the Department of Human Genetics with Leon E. Rosenberg, M.D., as chair, today’s genetics department has an unusually broad focus with strengths in a wide range of disciplines, including studies of simple model organisms, inherited metabolic disorders, and the complex genetics of common human diseases.

When Rosenberg became dean of the School of Medicine in 1984, Sterling Professor Carolyn W. Slayman, Ph.D., was appointed to lead the genetics department. After Dr. Slayman’s selection as deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs in 1995, faculty member David C. Ward, Ph.D., inventor of the gene-mapping technique known as fluorescence in situ hybridization, served for two years as acting chair. Daniel DiMaio, M.D., Ph.D., led the department as interim chair last year as a national search was conducted.

DiMaio said Lifton’s selection as chair “was an outstanding choice. He’s someone who is interested in the genetics of common disease, which most people agree is the future of human genetics. He knows his way around Yale,” he added, “and his work is superb.”

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