Barbara Wold (PhD '78), Bren Professor of Molecular Biology, has been appointed as the director of the Richard N. Merkin Institute for Translational Research at Caltech. The Institute, established earlier this year, aims to help Caltech scientists and engineers transform their breakthroughs into advances in human health and enhance resources for every step in translational science, from basic discovery through clinical collaboration and the introduction of new treatments.
"Caltech's great, unchanging strength is our capacity to make fundamental scientific breakthroughs and the inventions that flow from them," Wold says. "Those advances can drive big changes in medicine, but the path from a basic discovery to a treatment or medical device can be long and full of roadblocks. The new Merkin Institute promises to remove roadblocks and catalyze the best at each step: We make a discovery, relate the insight to human biology, develop the medical applications, and then mine data from precision medicine to drive new rounds of discovery. To me, the brilliance of Richard Merkin's investment in Caltech is how it leverages our basic science to make the distance from breakthrough to patient treatment as short as possible."
Wold is a genome biologist whose research is focused on discovering how gene activity is encoded in the DNA and developing the technologies needed to figure that out. She and her research group use genomics to understand the basis of cellular identity, how it is disrupted in disease, and how it can be engineered. Her group is active in building international functional genomics databases and computational resources.
Wold served as the director of the Beckman Institute at Caltech from 2001–11 and was the founder, in 2012, of the National Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Genomics. She has been a member of the Caltech faculty since 1981.