May 14, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 16

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    Ledbetter first Mitchell Professor of Human Genetics

    New chair established with gift from Marjorie Mitchell

    By John Easton
    Medical Center Public Affairs

    David Ledbetter has been named the first Marjorie I. and Bernard A. Mitchell Professor of Human Genetics. A specialist on the genetics of human development and on prenatal detection of chromosomal abnormalities, Ledbetter is Chairman of the newly created Department of Human Genetics.

    The professorship recognizes a gift from Marjorie I. Mitchell to endow a chair in the department.

    "I'm thrilled to contribute to research with the importance of genetics today," said Mrs. Mitchell. "Under Dr. Ledbetter's guidance, Human Genetics at the University of Chicago has the potential to significantly increase our understanding in this field."

    The Mitchells have a strong history of supporting medicine and research at the University. The family contributed more than $14 million to help build the Bernard A. Mitchell Hospital, completed in 1983. During his life, Mr. Mitchell was involved in the University's Gastrointestinal Research Foundation (GIRF). Mrs. Mitchell is an honorary director of GIRF and a member of the Women's Board of the University. Their daughter, Vicki Mitchell Kohn, is a member of the Council for the Biological Sciences Division and the Pritzker School of Medicine.

    An authority on molecular cytogenetics, the use of DNA-based methods of detecting genetic abnormalities, Ledbetter has published extensively on the diagnosis and genetic underpinnings of birth defects and on new methods of detecting chromosomal abnormalities. He is particularly interested in genetic damage occuring near the ends of chromosomes, which often results in mental retardation. He recently directed a transatlantic collaborative effort to develop the first complete set of molecular probes that can detect minute deletions or rearrangements of DNA at the chromosome ends.

    Ledbetter has published more than 160 research papers and more than a dozen book chapters and review articles about birth defects, cytogenetics, prenatal testing and human genetics. He has been involved in the Human Genome Project and directed a National Institutes of Health project to create a physical map of chromosome 17. He has also been instrumental in the effort to understand the genetics of several hereditary disorders that cause retardation, such as Prader-Willi syndrome. He has been honored for his work by the British Medical Genetics Society, which awarded him the Carter Medal in 1995.

    Ledbetter joined the faculty in 1996 as Professor in Obstetrics & Gynecology and Director of the Center for Medical Genetics. He came to Chicago from the National Institutes of Health, where he was chief of the diagnostic branch of the National Center for Human Genome Research. He previously was a professor in the Institute for Molecular Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine.