Trained in human genetics, Huntington Willard has focused his research, educational, and leadership interests at the crossroads of basic genetics and genome biology and their impact on society and the practice of medicine. His research group’s efforts on the function of the human genome led to the identification of the XIST non-coding RNA gene that controls X chromosome inactivation and to the genomic definition of human centromeres, comprised of complex repetitive DNA sequences that form specialized heterochromatin underlying chromosome segregation in mitosis and meiosis.
He has led complex interdisciplinary units that combined both basic genetics and medical genetics at major universities and hospitals and, at various institutions, started new degree programs in genetics/genomics, genetic counseling, bioinformatics, and genome policy. He is co-author of the textbook Genetics in Medicine, and co-editor of the Genomic and Precision Medicine book series. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Prior to coming to Geisinger full-time, he was chair of the Geisinger Scientific Advisory Board from 2011-2017.
His current interests focus on the challenge of implementing knowledge and data from the sequence of individual genomes into the practice of healthcare, both at Geisinger and nationally. This will require fundamental shifts in how we view genomes and DNA, the prevention of disease, the nature of one’s healthcare, and the state of health and well-being itself.