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Mark Cullen tapped to be new senior associate dean of research

An expert in quantitative science and public health, Cullen will share the post with the Harry Greenberg, the current senior associate dean of research, until June.

- By Ruthann Richter

Mark Cullen

Mark Cullen, MD, director of the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences, has stepped into a new role as senior associate dean for research at the School of Medicine.

Cullen will share the responsibilities of the job with Harry Greenberg, MD, the current senior associate dean for research, until June 2017. Greenberg will stay on after that time in a newly created position of associate dean for research.

“Dr. Cullen came to Stanford in 2009 to serve as chief of medical disciplines and quickly earned a reputation as a compassionate clinician, respected mentor and collaborative colleague,” Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, said in announcing the appointment Oct. 5.

A population scientist and public health expert, Cullen said one of his goals is to build the stature of Stanford’s program in quantitative sciences, or what he calls the dry-lab sciences.

Promoting dry-lab sciences

“One of my major ambitions in the new job is to advance the science culture,” said Cullen, who is also a professor of medicine. “I want people to accept the potential of dry-lab research to be an equal partner with what’s historically been fantastic at Stanford, which is the laboratory sciences, and to recognize that in fact without quantitative science we will never be a great science institution. That culture shift would represent a real sea change.”

He said he also hopes to spur the “development of true team science,” in which researchers from diverse disciplines inside and outside the medical school work together on complex problems that impact human health and longevity.

“I’m talking about building groups that include, for instance, geneticists and sociologists and clinical scientists and engineers — people whose fundamental way of asking questions is different,” he said. “If we are going to answer questions like, ‘What happens after the moment of conception that changes your chance of getting disease or being healthy?’ we will need many disciplines. Without such diverse teams, we will never understand how social networks do or don’t contribute to our health. We will not understand how living in a complex, urban environment impacts the way people survive, or why and how they develop chronic disease and what we might do to change that. These are questions that require many intellectual inputs.”

Big data pioneer

Cullen has been a pioneer in big data; long before the practice became popular, he was using large collections of data to study human health. In the late 1990s, while at Yale University, he began a longstanding relationship with Alcoa, America’s largest aluminum producer, in which he and his colleagues from various fields assembled health, environmental and other records to study the environmental and psychosocial causes of disease in the workforce. In the process, they began to understand many issues, such as how early life impacts the risk of disease later in life, and how a person’s health may be affected by major life changes, such as financial setback. The work contributed to important occupational health reforms and helped validate the field of data science.

Cullen and Greenberg will serve as co-principal investigators for the school’s research activities as part of the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical and Translational Science Award consortium until May 2017. Cullen will serve as the sole lead investigator following the grant’s renewal.

In announcing the appointment, Minor also praised Greenberg, a professor of medicine and specialist in viruses affecting the gastrointestinal tract, liver and respiratory system. He has had led the school’s research enterprise since 2002.

“Throughout his tenure, Dr. Greenberg has been a champion for increased collaboration across the research spectrum and across disciplines around the university,” Minor said. “He played a key role in helping to expand PI waiver privileges to clinician-educators and postdoctoral fellows, and I have deeply appreciated his wise counsel and many contributions to Stanford Medicine and the university.”

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