About Us

Lee Hartwell, Ph.D.

Lee Hartwell

Biographical sketch

  • President and director emeritus, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle
  • Professor of genome sciences and adjunct professor of medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine
  • American Cancer Society Research Professor of Genetics

For most of Dr. Lee Hartwell's career he studied genes that control cell division in yeast. Subsequently many of these same genes have been found to control cell division in humans and often to be the site of alteration in cancer. Hartwell also turned to yeast to investigate the basis for accurate cellular reproduction and discovered a new class of gene: the "checkpoint" gene. These genes notice when mistakes have been made during cellular reproduction and halt cell division so that repair can take place.

His insights into cell-cycle control are being used at the Hutchinson Center and elsewhere to develop treatments for cancer and other diseases. For example, in collaboration with Dr. Steve Friend, Hartwell explored the potential to identify cancer therapeutics using a panel of yeast mutants defective in DNA repair. And together with Dr. Lee Hood the two founded a company, Rosetta Informatics, to use transcript profiles and yeast mutants to identify new therapeutic targets.

Recently his interests have turned to how we can use the enormous knowledge that has accumulated over the last 50 years in genetics and biochemistry to benefit cancer patients. He believes that the most efficient path is to improve molecular diagnostics to identify individuals at high risk for disease, detect cancer and other diseases at an early stage when they can be cured, provide prognostic information and monitor therapeutic response. Proteins will likely provide the best diagnostic information because of their greater diversity and because their state reflects biological function. The technology for protein diagnostics, however, is in its infancy. Hartwell's efforts are now directed toward improving the field of protein diagnostics.

He is involved in national and international projects to increase the number of laboratories working in protein diagnostics, develop more team science, improve the availability of informatics for data sharing, provide standardized reagents and stimulate new technology development. Together with Dr. Michael Birt of the National Bureau for Asian Research he was a key organizer of the first international Pacific Health Summit, held in Seattle in June 2005, which brought together the best minds in science, policy, medical practice, research and public health from around the Pacific Rim.

Hartwell was born Oct. 30, 1939, in Los Angeles. In 1961 he earned a B.S. at the California Institute of Technology and in 1964 earned a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the mentorship of Dr. Boris Magasanik. He engaged in postdoctoral work at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies from 1964 through 1965 with Dr. Renato Dulbecco. He joined the University of Washington faculty in 1968 and has been a genetics professor there since 1973.

In 1996 he joined the faculty of Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and in 1997 became its president and director.

Hartwell is the recipient of many national and international scientific awards, including the 2001 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Other honors include the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, the Gairdner Foundation International Award and the Alfred P. Sloan Award in cancer research. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Hartwell lives in Seattle with his wife, Theresa Naujack.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a world leader in research to prevent, detect and treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.