Jackson Laboratory

Edison Liu Leaves Singapore to Head Jackson Lab

Cancer researcher Edison Liu, 59, will be the new president of the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, the lab announced today. Liu will take charge in January 2012, succeeding Rick Woychik, who stepped down earlier this year to become deputy director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina.

Liu comes to Jackson after 11 years at the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), where he has been executive director since its founding. Liu says one of his big achievements in Singapore was to build an institute from scratch with home-grown talent rather than relying heavily on "imports." Liu's successor as director of GIS will be one of those home-grown stars—Huck Hui Ng, a GIS senior research group leader, adjunct professor at the National University of Singapore among other teaching posts, and an expert in stem cell biology.

Liu, who was born in Hong Kong in 1952, studied chemistry and psychology as an undergraduate at Stanford University, then went on to get an M.D. degree from Stanford in 1978. In the 1980s, Liu was a fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, including as a postdoc under J. Michael Bishop, who with Harold Varmus shared a 1989 Nobel Prize. Liu then moved to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, as a professor of medicine. He was running the 1200-person clinical sciences division of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, when GIS recruited him away in 2001. He has done important research on tyrosine kinase receptors, most famously on HER2, which affects how tumors respond to chemotherapy in breast cancer patients.

Why did Liu decide to leave Singapore to run an animal research and genetics center on a distant island in Maine? Liu told ScienceInsider that he had always intended to depart from GIS after a decade. Administrators tend to go "sour" and stale after many years in command, Liu says, and he promised himself that he would move on before that happened to him.

Liu says his first reaction to a recruiting call from Jackson's leaders was, "I thought maybe they had the wrong person [because] I'm not a mouse geneticist." Jax, as the lab is known, is a nonprofit outfit that produces and sells inbred strains of mice, particularly for cancer research. Liu focuses on human studies. But he says that he learned that Jackson has a "strong science group," a good business model, and that "its vision coincides with mine." That vision, Liu says, is an integrated view of biology or an emphasis on "systems biology."

Recently Jax has been looking for ways to expand its operations. An effort to set up a satellite in Florida failed when local funding dried up, and now Jax is looking at joining a proposed genetics research collaboration in New York City. Although some question whether expansion is the right move for Jax, Liu says it exactly what the lab should be doing to sustain its good science.