"I learned so much about myself coming here, I learned how to think, write and communicate better... I learned all of that at Reserve." Dr. Wynshaw-Boris '73 on Friday addressed the school community as the 2017 recipient of the Edward W. Morley Medal, an award given to a WRA graduate who has contributed significantly to the field of science.
Dr. Anthony Wynshaw-Boris is a gifted researcher, scientist and doctor. But there is an optimism in his approach to his work that, after decades of accomplishments, still feels very fresh.
"I always believe discovery is going to happen. It might not be tomorrow, but it will happen."
During his return visit to WRA on Friday, Feb. 9, he spoke about decades of "taking the forks in the road," and encouraged students to do the same on their career path and in life. His journey from WRA student to preeminent physician scientist includes multiple twists, turns, geographies and accolades.
Dr. Wynshaw-Boris received his MD/PhD degrees from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, the school he decided he wanted to attend as far back as the fifth grade. He did his residency in Pediatrics at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, followed by a medical genetics fellowship at Boston Children's Hospital. While in Boston, he did a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School, where he studied mouse models of developmental disorders.
In 1994, Dr. Wynshaw-Boris set up an independent laboratory at the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institute of Health (NIH), where he initiated a program using mouse models to study human genetic diseases, with a focus on neurogenetic diseases. In 1999, he moved to University of California San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, where he became Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine, as well as Chief of the Division of Medical Genetics in the Department of Pediatrics. In 2007, he moved to the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine, where he was the Charles J. Epstein Professor of Human Genetics and Pediatrics, and the Chief of the Division of Medical Genetics in the Department of Pediatrics.
In June 2013, Dr. Wynshaw-Boris returned to Cleveland to become the Chair of the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. When asked by a WRA student about the work styles of colleagues in various geographies, he said, "Science is international – it doesn't matter where you are. It is all about communication and collaboration."
Dr. Wynshaw-Boris also challenged some stereotypes about science in his talk to the students. He emphasized that it is not a singular pursuit, alone in a lab, nor one where success is achieved absent of excellent spoken and written communications skills. "All scientists do is communicate. All work is published to advance research. Grants are written to achieve funding. We are always trying to educate."
Currently, Dr. Wynshaw-Boris and his team are tackling one of today's most pervasive and vexing diseases – autism. He relishes the opportunity to "study the most amazing organ in the body, the brain." One of the main projects in his laboratory is the genetics and pathophysiology of autism and social behavior, with a particular emphasis on pathways responsible for brain overgrowth. He wonders aloud and ambitiously if the future might include enough knowledge and precision to combat autism at the embryonic stage. He ponders the ethical implications.
With Dr. Wynshaw-Boris, there never is a feeling that frontiers have been exhausted or the explorer must advance alone. His optimism, focus on collaborative work ("science is a team sport") and credit to our country for its enduring embrace of discovery and scientific research makes him sound like the Pioneer he always was, starting at Reserve, and still is.
"We live in a society where this is still valued as an important endeavor and there is an embrace of constantly finding solutions to problems."