BETHESDA, MD - The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) has named R. Rodney Howell, MD, Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics, and Member of the Hussman Institute for Human Genomics, at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, as the first recipient of its new, annual Advocacy Award.
This award honors individuals or groups who have exhibited excellence and achievement in applications of human genetics for the common good, in areas such as facilitating public awareness of genetics issues, promoting funding for biomedical research, and integrating genetics into health systems. ASHG will present the award, which will include a plaque and cash prize, on Friday, October 9, during the organization's 65th Annual Meeting in Baltimore.
Throughout his career, Dr. Howell has led varied efforts to leverage biomedical and genetic advances to improve public health. He has held leadership positions with the Muscular Dystrophy Association since the 1980s, as Chairman of its Genetics Task Force from 1983-1989, as Chairman of its Scientific Advisory Board from 1989-2007, and as Chairman of its Board of Directors since 2007. In these roles, he advocated for the research and improved care of people with muscular dystrophy and other neuromuscular diseases, and in 2007 helped the organization establish a formal National Advocacy Office.
Dr. Howell has also been heavily involved in implementing newborn genetic screening in the United States. In 2003, he led a federal expert panel tasked with standardizing screening protocols across the country, which led to the expansion of screening programs the following year. From 2003 to 2011, he served as Founding Chair of the congressionally mandated Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders of Newborns and Children, in which role he advised the Secretary of Health and Human Services on genetic testing in children, including newborn screening, and established evidence-based processes that the Committee continues to use.
In addition, Dr. Howell has shown leadership in his own scientific and medical communities. From 1984-1986, he served as Chairman of the ASHG Genetics Services Committee. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1996 and has served on the Board of Directors for the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG) Foundation since 1992, including ten years as its president from 2003-2012. He was also a member of the ACMG Board of Directors from 1991-2012, serving as its President from 1999-2000.
For these achievements and others, Dr. Howell has received numerous awards, including Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Duke University Medical Alumni Association (2007) and from ACMG (2012), as well as the March of Dimes Colonel Harland D. Sanders Lifetime Achievement Award in Genetics (2013). In 1989, the University of Texas Medical School launched the R. Rodney Howell MD Lectureship in Medical Genetics in his honor, and in 2012, the Newborn Foundation/Newborn Coalition established the R. Rodney Howell Award in Newborn Health, naming Dr. Howell as its first recipient. In 2013, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Federal Rare Disease Act, he was named one of 30 Rare Disease Heroes by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.