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Heidi Rehm

Heidi Rehm

Last year, Heidi Rehm was voted one of the best speakers at Festival of Genomics in Boston by the crowd there. She only lost out to J. Craig Venter and George Church (and not by much!). What do all three have in common? They’re all at the very forefront of genomics. Heidi’s lab is responsible for an impressive list of ‘firsts’, and she is also heavily involved in building the processes and infrastructure to help make precision medicine a much more powerful reality. But where did her journey begin, and what keeps her motivated through a very hectic schedule?

FLG: Starting at the beginning, where did your interest in molecular biology and genetics come from?

HR: Well, my father was a high school biology teacher, so that might have had some influence on me. I remember going back to my, what was it, my 20 or 15 year high school reunion where we’d put what our careers would be, and I wrote genetic engineer. So I was pretty close. I just loved biology, and specifically genetics, when I was a kid. In college I majored in molecular biology and biochemistry. There wasn’t a genetics major at Middlebury, so that was the closest area. Then I worked in a research laboratory, which at the time seemed the only career option in science. I spent the summer in college doing laboratory research, really enjoyed it, and so decided to pursue further work in the lab. That led me to a PhD program, and I got my PhD in genetics.

FLG: What led you to setting up the Laboratory for Molecular Medicine at Partners HealthCare?

HR: In addition to loving genetics, more specifically I liked the clinical relevance of studying human disease. So when I came to Harvard for graduate school, I selected a Human Genetics laboratory to do my PhD in, and that landed me in Cynthia Morton’s Lab studying hereditary hearing loss. When it came time to get a post-doc, I loved the field of hearing loss, and I wanted to stay in it. Usually in a post-doc you try to branch out a little, so I decided to do a post-doc in a lab that was doing more neurophysiological approaches to studying hearing loss. So I went to David Corey’s Lab in the Neuroscience Department of Harvard to do my postdoc. But within a year or two, the opportunity arose to build this new center that at the time that was called the Harvard Partners Center for Genetics and Genomics. Cynthia, my PhD advisor, was a part of some of the planning for that center and suggested my name as someone who would be good to help build a new clinical lab that would be part of that center. It was sort of a perfect marriage of doing genetics, but also applying it to human disease. I agreed to take the position to build a new clinical lab, and that’s really where I started, you know, and that was 2002. So it’s now been, what, 13 years since I started building the clinical laboratory.


You can read the rest of our interview with Heidi Rehm on page 25 here.


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