5 questions with… professor and genetics researcher Anthony Wynshaw-Boris

Anthony Wynshaw-Boris can’t recall a time when he didn’t know he would have a career in medicine. It was just something he feels like he was “almost born with”—fitting for researcher who would go on to study genetics.

Photo of Anthony Wynshaw-BorisWith a career at the intersection of pediatrics and genetics, Wynshaw-Boris, the James H. Jewell MD ’34 Professor of Genetics and chair of the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences at the School of Medicine, has been at the forefront of insights into neurogenetic diseases.

In recognition of his contributions to the field, Wynshaw-Boris recently was elected president of the American Society of Human Genetics.

Wynshaw-Boris, who also is the chair of the genetics department and director of the Center for Human Genetics at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, has long been a member of the society, the foremost organization dedicated to human genetics. He attended his first meeting early in his career while a postdoctoral fellow in 1989—and he hasn’t missed a meeting since.

In the years that followed, he took on various roles within the organization, including time on the board of directors and chair of the program committee.

Through the appointment, Wynshaw-Boris will serve as president-elect in 2019, president in 2020 and past president in 2021. During that time, he will sit on the executive board, helping shape the organization and the future of the genetics field.

He expects that one major component of that will be working with the public and politicians on all levels to advocate for genetics and science more broadly.

“How can we continue to make the case that science is important?” Wynshaw-Boris said.

Research pursuits

Wynshaw-Boris decided to study genetics after spending time during his residency at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and a fellowship at the Children’s Hospital of Boston and Harvard University.

“I thought genetics was going to be a big thing coming down the road,” he said. “Fortunately, I was right about that.”

Since he made that decision, Wynshaw-Boris has played an instrumental role in making insights into childhood neurogenetic diseases and cancer.

Researchers in his lab work to determine what went wrong when disorders present themselves and use their findings to gain insights into function and development of the central nervous system.

The lab has four active projects, with a primary focus on early brain overgrowth and autism, including what pathways might be disruptive in autism.

With each step forward in his team’s research, Wynshaw-Boris hopes “that someday, if we don’t come up with a therapy based on those insights, someone else will be able to,” he said.

1. What’s your favorite poem or poet?

Most of the poetry I listen to is set to music, such as opera, art songs/lieder, the American Songbook, etc. It is difficult to pick a favorite, but I can point out two spectacular performances this year by the Cleveland Orchestra during their 100th anniversary season: the sublime opera “Tristan and Isolde” by Richard Wagner; and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with the final movement a celebration of humanity, setting Freidrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” to glorious music.

2. Do you prefer e-readers or actual books?

For pleasure reading, I like to read actual books. I do a lot of reading related to my work in research and medicine, and I usually read those electronically, mostly on my computer.

3. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

I have been fortunate to receive a lot of great advice over my career, but my former graduate adviser, Dr. Richard Hanson, who was the former chair of the Department of Biochemistry, provided advice directly and by example. In fact, when faced with difficult situations, I often ask myself: “What would Richard do?”

4. If you were to become famous for something, for what do you think it would be?

If I become famous, I hope it will be for providing improved understanding of the childhood neurogenetic disorders that we study in my laboratory and, if we are fortunate, even providing new therapeutic options.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

I was born and grew up in Cleveland, and received my MD and PhD degrees from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, so, as the chair of the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences, you can say that CWRU is in my DNA! Probably my favorite aspects of CWRU since I returned are the camaraderie of the faculty and the excellence of the students.