Dinner at Dr. Mark Groudine's house is always a big gathering. Even when Groudine and his wife are the only ones feasting, elaborately carved wood figures, standing elbow to elbow, join them in the dining room.
Groudine has been acquiring, researching and sharing his vast collection of Oceanic and African art with museums for decades. His curiosity about the journey and cultural context of each piece — he even pores over antique cargo-ship logs — reflects a mind that's delved into scientific research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center since 1979.
His willingness to part with some of his favorite figures to complete another enthusiast's collection demonstrates Groudine's high regard for teamwork, both in art and in science.
"The people in my lab are truly my colleagues, and an essential aspect of my job is making sure their accomplishments are recognized," said Groudine, Fred Hutch's interim president and director. "I am not at all a top down kind of leader — I give people responsibility and turn them loose."
As a molecular and cellular biologist, Groudine is internationally renowned for his research on the control of gene expression and the structure of chromatin, the substance in the nucleus of living cells that contains genes and forms chromosomes. Advances in these areas are essential for understanding cancer formation and growth. Groudine is also a professor and attending physician in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
In recognition of Groudine's contributions to biomedical research, he has been elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also recently received a rare honor from the National Institutes of Health in the form of two consecutive Merit awards-long-term funding for investigators with impressive records of scientific achievement in promising research areas. Less than 5 percent of NIH-funded investigators receive such awards, and even fewer get two.
As a researcher and lifelong learner, Groudine sees similarities between the subjective nature of science and art.
"In art, I can get extreme pleasure looking at an object and knowing about its history and cultural use, and to someone else, it's just a piece of firewood," he said. "In science, we can get so focused on what we are doing and how important we believe it is, yet someone else has a completely different road that they're traveling scientifically, which they believe is the best way. We may even make different conclusions from the same data."