Leading population geneticist is appointed Junior Group Leader

Dr Marc Haber

The Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences recently appointed Dr Marc Haber as Junior Group Leader. He joins Birmingham from the Wellcome Sanger Institute bringing with him extensive experience in population genetics.

What attracted you to the University of Birmingham?

I study the genetic diversity of populations and its relationship to diseases, so I can’t think of a better place to be for my research than at the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences based in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences; at the heart of the most ethnically diverse city in the UK and on the doorstep of one of the largest hospitals in Europe.

What will you bring to your role?

A perspective of looking at cancer and diseases as the products of our evolutionary past. I bring a lot of experience on what drives genetic variation in humans in different parts of the world.

What are you hoping to accomplish while at Birmingham?

The majority of the medical genetic studies have been conducted in Europeans while other populations have been largely overlooked. This resulted in a bias in our knowledge leading not only to worse disease prediction and treatment in the under-represented populations but also to a lack of complete understanding of disease architecture whose components are probably dispersed across global populations. In Birmingham I hope we can address this bias to improve all human health.  

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement to date?

I spent most of the first nine years of my life in a basement hiding in one of Beirut’s most vicious war fighting zones during the 1980s. Surviving then catching up and doing top science in the UK is my achievement.

What is your motivation for getting up in the morning?

When I started looking at genetic data it consisted of tens of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) which one could put in an Excel sheet and sort in different ways.

A decade forward and I’m looking at millions of variants from hundreds of thousands of individuals, whole genomes are being sequenced at an incredible rate, and single cells genomes and cancer genomes, or even genomes of people who died thousands of years ago, are all being sequenced with absolute precision. 

This is the best time to be around as a geneticist and it is the time the future generations, including my son Jason, will look back at with admiration as the age when scientists led a revolution in genomics to decipher all aspects of life.    

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