Featured Article April 30, 2019

The birth of medical genetics

JAX shares its peerless expertise in all things laboratory mouse through scientific courses, conferences, workshops and webinars. At least one of these has changed the course of biomedical research.

On a warm July midday in 1959, Victor McKusick, the Johns Hopkins University professor who would become known as “the father of medical genetics,” was having lunch with John Fuller, then head of JAX education and training. “I suggested to him that there should be a course in medical genetics up here, for medical school faculty people, in particular,” McKusick recalled in 1986. “The Jackson Laboratory people had much to teach us in medicine because of the rather parallel things that they do in mice.”

That lunch launched the course that is known today as the McKusick Short Course in Human and Mammalian Genetics and Genomics. For six decades, the Course has brought top researchers from JAX, Johns Hopkins and institutions around the world to Bar Harbor for two weeks of lectures and workshops, providing an overview of heredity, disease, genetics in experimental animals and humans, and molecular genetics in the diagnosis and treatment of inherited disorders.

In the process, by bringing M.D. clinical researchers together with Ph.D. bench scientists during more than 60 lovely coastal Maine summers, the McKusick Short Course has had a major role in making the term “medical genetics” almost redundant: Today the understanding of genetics forms the very basis of medicine.