Roel Verhaak appointed professor and associate director of computational biology

Roel Verhaak, Ph.D., a computational biologist who studies cancer genomics, has been appointed professor and associate director of computational biology at The Jackson Laboratory (JAX).

Verhaak will join JAX from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he is an associate professor in the Department of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology and the Department of Genomic Medicine. He will begin work at the JAX Genomic Medicine campus in Farmington, Conn., on Oct. 1.

“Roel Verhaak is a star in the analysis of ‘big data’ in cancer genomics research,” says Charles Lee, Ph.D., FACMG, scientific director and professor at JAX Genomic Medicine.

Verhaak’s lab at JAX will develop and employ cutting-edge computational biology approaches for analysis of genomic data sets “with the main goal of improving our understanding of therapy resistance, ultimately aimed at improving patient lives,” he says.

Verhaak says he was attracted to JAX by its high-throughput sequencing, single-cell sequencing and long-range sequencing technologies.

“Such methods are able to generate large amounts – terabytes – of data,” he says. “My group and I have a lot of expertise in analyzing these data sets, especially in the context of cancer. We chose to join JAX to leverage these exciting technologies. Our goal is to help the institution to become a world leader in genomic medicine.”

Verhaak recently won the 2016 AAAS Martin and Rose Wachtel Cancer Research Award, which honors early career investigators who have performed outstanding work in cancer research. He is also one of five finalists for Agilent Technologies’ 2016 Early Career Professor Award.

In addition, Verhaak has won four other awards in the last five years, including the Wilson S. Stone Memorial Award from MD Anderson in 2011 and the Peter Steck Memorial Award from the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation in 2013.

“Roel has proven himself to be a leader in cancer genomics at MD Anderson, as well as nationally and internationally through his outstanding contributions to The Cancer Genome Atlas program of the NCI,” says John N. Weinstein, M.D., Ph.D., chair of Verhaak’s former department at MD Anderson. “He’s one of those rare computational biologists who’s also at home in the wet laboratory and therefore brings added dimensions to the information science. He’s a rising star, and we’re sad that he is leaving here. But we – and I personally – look forward to continued interaction and collaboration as we take pride in what I’m sure will be his great success at JAX Genomic Medicine.”

Verhaak, a native of The Netherlands, has a Ph.D. in medicine from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam and a M.Sc. degree in biomedical science and computer science from Radboud University in Nijmegen. He was a visiting scientist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and then a research scientist in hematology at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam before completing a research fellowship at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. He joined the MD Anderson Cancer Center in 2010.