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Nobel Prize winner Hartwell to lead major ASU health initiative

September 04, 2009

Arizona State University announces the appointment of Nobel Prize winner Dr. Leland “Lee” H. Hartwell to lead an expansive effort addressing two of today’s top concerns: improving the effectiveness of health care while reducing its costs, and advancing science education.

Hartwell becomes the first Nobel Prize recipient in physiology or medicine to serve a faculty appointment at an Arizona university. He will establish and co-direct the Center for Sustainable Health at ASU’s Biodesign Institute as ASU’s second Virginia G. Piper Chair of Personalized Medicine. The new center is the latest step in the evolution of the Arizona-based Partnership for Personalized Medicine, launched by Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust with $35 million in 2007. Piper Trust has provided an additional $2.5 million for the new center.

“Dr. Hartwell already has transformed one worldview of science, earning a 2001 Nobel Prize for insights into the genes that control cell growth,” says ASU President Michael Crow. “ASU provides a dynamic environment that will support the type of big ideas he has to help shape health care in the coming decade.”

Hartwell’s new center in the Biodesign Institute will identify biomarkers – early indicators of disease – to enable personalized, pre-symptomatic diagnoses, and it will develop tools for providing the intelligence needed for better patient outcomes. It will interface with other Biodesign centers working on complementary aspects of these goals.

“In the current health care debate, higher quality and lower cost often are positioned as opposing weights on a scale, but Dr. Hartwell’s efforts are aimed at identifying the strategies and technologies that can simultaneously achieve both,” says Biodesign Institute Executive Director Alan Nelson.

A key aspect of Hartwell’s efforts will be redefining health outcomes metrics, encompassing expanded considerations such as the environmental, educational and socio-political impacts on health. He will be assisted in this effort by Michael Birt, a health policy expert who has been recruited to co-direct the new center.

“Health care metrics – particularly in the U.S. – have too long been focused on narrow aspects of cost and quality indicators that have led to an overemphasis on treatment rather than prevention, and a lack of effective tools for clinical decision making,” Hartwell says. “Dr. Birt and I will lead efforts to address these challenges, integrating all key stakeholders to create more effective solutions.”

Hartwell is no stranger to Arizona, having served as executive chairman of the Partnership for Personalized Medicine since its creation. The partnership includes the Biodesign Institute, Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Hartwell currently is president and director of the Hutchinson Center.

“The trustees of Piper Trust have placed the foundation’s biggest bet ever on Dr. Lee Hartwell and his vision of the future of health care,” says Judy Mohraz, president of Piper Trust. “We are delighted that he will soon be at ASU rubbing shoulders with scientists, health-care policy makers and students on a routine basis.”

Hartwell has announced he will retire from his post at the Hutchinson Center in June 2010. He will then assume his ASU tenured faculty appointment. During the coming academic year, he will begin preliminary preparations for the new center during a phased transition approved by Hutchinson Center. Birt will begin immediately, handling daily operations and start up.

Hartwell will have several academic appointments at ASU. His interest in advancing science education will be furthered serving as a tenured professor in the College of Teacher Education and Leadership. “We must educate the world on the challenges facing future generations and on the role of science and technology in meeting those challenges,” Hartwell says. Other tenured appointments include ASU’s School of Life Sciences and School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, areas critical to his sustainable health initiative.

Birt, who was recruited along with Hartwell as a linchpin in co-directing Biodesign’s new Center for Sustainable Health, is an internationally renowned health-care policy leader. Birt is senior vice president, Health and Society at The National Bureau of Asian Research; executive director of the Pacific Health Summit; and executive director of the Forum for Personal Health. He also holds the position of affiliate investigator at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He has consulted for many of the world’s leading health care, medical technology and consumer product companies. At ASU, he also will serve as professor of practice in the School of Health Care Management and Policy in the W.P. Carey School of Business.