Leader in Human Genetics to join Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Professor Leena Peltonen Appointed Head of Human Genetics

Credit: R Lehtoranta
Professor Leena Peltonen, who will lead Human Genetics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute today announces that Professor Leena Peltonen will join the Institute in September 2007 as Head of Human Genetics. Professor Peltonen, a member of the Finnish and the United States National Academy of Sciences, brings internationally recognized expertise in genetic studies of human disease to the Sanger Institute, a world leader in genomic and genetic research.

Professor Peltonen is an acknowledged leader in understanding the molecular basis of single-gene disorders as well as complex, more common disease. In her studies in Finnish populations she has identified genetic underpinnings of total of 18 monogenic diseases as well as such common diseases as lactose intolerance, multiple sclerosis, familial combined hyperlipidaemia (FCHL), schizophrenia and coronary heart disease.

“I am delighted that Professor Peltonen will join the Sanger Institute, bringing unique skills to a world-class institution. Professor Peltonen is committed to the understanding and conquest of genetic disease. She has worked tirelessly to bring together human genetics activities across Europe as well driving wider international efforts; this provides a fantastic foundation and resource which will contribute to our mission to bring new understanding of human disease.

“The appointment is a perfect match of skills and expertise.”

Professor Allan Bradley Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Professor Peltonen has pioneered the use of special population resources in disease gene hunts. She has especially used Finnish populations where, because of restricted genetic diversity, some isolated groups can provide more rapid insight into human disease. Many of the findings in the Finnish study samples have exposed novel biological pathways and been replicated in other populations and become landmarks of the power of special populations in the search for genetic basis of human diseases. Professor Peltonen has published more than 420 research reports.

Professor Peltonen has been pivotal in large collaborative efforts within the European Union and in the US, which have collected massive data sets using genome-wide tools. She will ensure that research in human genetics at the Sanger Institute is integrated into wider efforts. Her appointment at the WTSI will allow the Institute to participate and to lead in human genetics and genetic epidemiology-driven collaborations.

“We are facing the most exciting era in genetic research of human diseases. Our initial experience with whole genome scans is best seen as proof-of-concept that unbiased, genome-wide phenotype-driven screening in humans can succeed for common diseases, representing major public health problems. We have finally tools to characterize the biology of all human diseases in a comprehensive way. I would not be excessive to state that our current possibilities to analyze all the genes will lead to a historic revolution in human genetics, and provide a solid new foundation for the future of medicine and public health. I want the Sanger Institute to play a key role in this exciting process.”

Professor Leena Peltonen

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has been a leading contributor to the Human Genome Project The HapMap Project and the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium, which are essential steps in uncovering the role of genes in common human disease. Professor Peltonen’s leadership will broaden and strengthen the Institute’s contribution in human genetics and intensify collaborations between Sanger Institute and research groups working on molecular aspects of human diseases both nationally and internationally.

“Leena Peltonen is a world leader in the genetics of human disease. It is extremely timely that she is joining the Sanger Institute, which has a first-class faculty and facilities for large-scale genome studies and bioinformatics. The coming years will be an enormously exciting period for human genetics as the results of the Human Genome Project are translated into new knowledge of the genetic basis for many aspects of health and disease. Leena, her colleagues at the Sanger and their collaborators are poised to make many important discoveries.”

Dr Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust

Professor Peltonen was recruited from the University of Helsinki, where she currently holds the prestigious Academy Professorship and was Professor of Medical Genetics and Molecular Medicine, in the University of Helsinki and the National Public Health Institute, Finland. She was the founding Chair of Human Genetics at UCLA in 1998-2002. She is a member of the board of the European Research Council, a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, the European Academy of Sciences and was President of the international Human Genome Organization (HUGO) for 2005-7.

She has also been a member of the UNESCO Bioethics Committee, served on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Human Genetics and was President of European Society of Human Genetics for 2004-5. Professor Peltonen will keep a part-time affiliation with the University of Helsinki and the National Public Health Institute.

More information

Brief Biography

Professor Peltonen graduated as MD (1976) and PhD (1978) from the University of Oulu, Finland. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at Rutgers Medical School, New Jersey, USA, she returned to Finland with posts at the University of Oulu and the University of Helsinki. From 1987 she played a leading role in the National Public Health Institute, Finland.

She was a founder of the Department of Human Genetics at University of California Los Angeles (1998-2002). Before accepting the appointment at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, she was chair of the Department of Molecular Medicine at the National Public Health Institute, Helsinki and the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Helsinki. She was the founding Chair of Human Genetics at UCLA in 1998-2002. She has been a Visiting Professor at the Broad Institute since 2005.

She has served on many national and international bodies, including as Chairman of the European Medical Research Council (1996-8), President of the Human Genome Organization (2005-7), on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Human Genetics (2001-4), President of the European Society of Human Genetics (2004-5) and as member of the Scientific Board of European Research Council (2005-).

Selected websites

  • The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

    The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which receives the majority of its funding from the Wellcome Trust, was founded in 1992. The Institute is responsible for the completion of the sequence of approximately one-third of the human genome as well as genomes of model organisms and more than 90 pathogen genomes. In October 2006, new funding was awarded by the Wellcome Trust to exploit the wealth of genome data now available to answer important questions about health and disease.

  • The Wellcome Trust

    The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending around £500 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.