OHSU neurogeneticist Brian J. O'Roak, Ph.D., is one of a select group of researchers in the United States and Canada to be honored with a 2015 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship. The highly sought-after award honors early-career scientists whose achievements and potential identify them as "rising stars.”
“Dr. O’Roak is richly deserving of this recognition,” said Susan Hayflick, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Molecular and Medical Genetics in the OHSU School of Medicine. “He is one of those rare ‘bridge’ scientists who can lead a high-impact research program that will cut across institutional, basic science and clinical boundaries. At OHSU, O’Roak interacts with clinical investigators at the Child Development and Rehabilitation Center and Doernbecher Children's Hospital, and with leading neuroscience and human genetics researchers. This is an ideal environment for him to make precision medicine in neurodevelopmental disorders a reality.”
Sloan Fellowship recipients are nominated by fellow scientists and selected by an independent panel of senior scholars based on independent research accomplishments, creativity and potential to become a leader in his or her field. O’Roak’s accomplishments to date include groundbreaking research into the genetic basis of neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. Most notability, O’Roak pioneered a family-based genome-sequencing model that has begun unraveling the genetic mystery of autism.
Recently, this work — including a study published last fall in the journal Nature — has established the largest number of high-confidence genetic risk factors for autism to date and provided important insights into the underlying biology of the disorder. In addition, O’Roak is leading the development of new technologies that allow for the rapid and inexpensive genetic screening of various patient groups with the hope of quickly translating basic science findings into targeted therapeutics that help affected children and their families.
O’Roak joined OHSU in Fall 2013 as an assistant professor of molecular and medical genetics in the School of Medicine and is the third OHSU scientist to be honored with a Sloan Research Fellowship. Henrique von Gersdorff, Ph.D., senior scientist in the OHSU Vollum Institute, and former OHSU neuroscientist Richard B. Simerly, Ph.D., now at the University of Southern California, received awards in 1999 and 1991, respectively.
“I’m very humbled to receive this honor and grateful to the many wonderful mentors, collaborators and foundations that have supported my work and scientific development,” said O’Roak. “I'm excited about the new studies this award will support and being part of such a distinguished group of fellows.”
Past Sloan Research Fellows have gone on to notable careers and include such intellectual luminaries as physicist Richard Feynman and game theorist John Nash. Since the inception of the Sloan Research Fellowship program in 1955, 43 fellows have received a Nobel Prize, 16 have won the Fields Medal in mathematics, 65 have received the National Medal of Science, and 14 have won the John Bates Clark Medal in economics, including every winner since 2007. Fellows receive $50,000 to further their research.