Dr. R. Rodney Howell Receives New Advocacy Award from Genetics Society

The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) has named R. Rodney Howell, M.D., Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics and Member of the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, as the first recipient of its new annual Advocacy Award.

This award honors individuals or groups who have exhibited excellence and achievement in applications of human genetics for the common good, in areas such as facilitating public awareness of genetics issues, promoting funding for biomedical research and integrating genetics into health systems. ASHG will present the award at its 65th Annual Meeting in Baltimore.

“I am very honored to receive the first annual Advocacy Award,” Howell said. “We are accelerating genetic technology. The award signifies our efforts to move genetics out of the laboratory and into the clinical field for the common good.”

Throughout his career, Howell has led varied efforts to leverage biomedical and genetic advances to improve public health. He has held leadership positions with the Muscular Dystrophy Association since the 1980s, acting as Chairman of its Board of Directors since 2007.

Howell has also been heavily involved in implementing newborn genetic screening in the United States.

In 2003, Howell led a federal expert panel tasked with standardizing screening protocols across the country, which led to the expansion of screening programs the following year. From 2003 to 2011, he served as Founding Chair of the congressionally mandated Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders of Newborns and Children, in which he advised the Secretary of Health and Human Services on genetic testing in children, including newborn screening, and established evidence-based processes that the Committee continues to use. Because of Howell’s efforts, newborns in the United States are now standardly screened for more than 30 treatable genetic conditions.

Howell has shown leadership in his own scientific and medical communities. From 1984-1986, he served as Chairman of the ASHG Genetics Services Committee. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1996 and has served on the Board of Directors for the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG) Foundation since 1992, including ten years as its president from 2003-2012. He was also a member of the ACMG Board of Directors from 1991-2012, serving as its President from 1999-2000.

For these achievements and others, Howell has received numerous awards, including Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Duke University Medical Alumni Association (2007) and from ACMG (2012), and the March of Dimes Colonel Harland D. Sanders Lifetime Achievement Award in Genetics (2013). In 1989, the University of Texas Medical School launched the R. Rodney Howell MD Lectureship in Medical Genetics in his honor, and in 2012, the Newborn Foundation/Newborn Coalition established the R. Rodney Howell Award in Newborn Health, naming Howell as its first recipient. In 2013, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Federal Rare Disease Act, he was named one of 30 Rare Disease Heroes by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Throughout my career I have been extremely fortunate to work with some of the greatest leaders in this field,” Howell said. “I was around at the right time and in the right place. Armies of researchers and physicians have been responsible for advancing genetics into clinical practice. I’ve been fortunate to be one of the members of that army.”

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