«Pendant des siècles, la Médecine s’est préoccupée de soigner. Aujourd’hui elle s'est donnée comme but de prévenir plutôt que de guérir.»
Pr Jean Dausset, Prix Nobel de Médecine, 1980
La Fondation Jean Dausset - Centre d’Etude du Polymorphisme Humain participe aux efforts nationaux et internationaux de recherche pour mieux déterminer le rôle du polymorphisme génétique chez l’Homme, tout particulièrement dans les maladies complexes, pour mieux les comprendre, les diagnostiquer et participer au développement d’une médecine personnalisée.

Pr. Howard Cann

Professor Howard Cann, who greatly contributed to the Centre d’Etude du Polymorphisme Humain (CEPH) international reputation, passed away at the age of 85 on May the 3rd 2014. Born in the USA, he adopted France as his country of residence 30 years ago.

Trained in paediatrics at Stanford University in California, he completed his education in genetics as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Professor Joshua Lederberg (1958 Nobel price in Medicine). He then joined the University of Pavia in Italy where he worked with Professor Luca Cavalli-Sforza, specialist in human population genetics with whom he collaborated until the end.

He joined in 1963 the Department of Pediatrics in Stanford University where he was later named Professor in the Department of Genetics. He conducted research on cytogenetics and child diseases segregation and collaborated with Rose Payne who worked on the HLA system.

During a sabbatical year in the reputed laboratory of Professor Walter Bodmer at Oxford in 1973-1974, he studied HLA-types and their segregation in human population, notably North-Americans and Africans and later, natives populations of Guatemala and Mexico.

In 1980, he met Professor Jean Dausset, who just received his Nobel prize in Medicine who introduced him to his collaborators at St-Louis Hospital in Paris. Howard then chose to work during a sabbatical year with Doctor Daniel Cohen and his team who were starting a study of HLA polymorphism at the DNA level. This year in Paris, which he described as “fantastic” and where he “touched” DNA for the first time convinced him to come back to Paris.

Pr. Daniel Cohen, Dr. Mark Lathrop, Pr. Howard Cann and Pr. Jean Dausset

In 1984 he got an INSERM position of Director of research and came back to Paris to work at CEPH recently founded by Jean Dausset. He took charge of the organization and coordination of the international collaboration for the human genome mapping, the preparation and distribution of the CEPH families DNA samples and the genetic database.

The core idea of the project was to share biological material and data at the international level. CEPH prepared DNA from CEPH families and sent them to collaborators around the world. Then, these laboratories sent genetic data back to the CEPH who gathered them in a database available to all collaborators. This work led to the generation of genetic maps of all human chromosomes.

Howard Cann contributed greatly to the CEPH international reputation.

He worked later on cerebrospinal ataxia, and then on trinucleotide repeats in neurological diseases.

At the beginning of the millennium, Howard, together with Professors Jean Dausset and Gilles Thomas, initiated a new international collaboration: The Human Genome Diversity Panel- CEPH project (HGDP-CEPH). The panel was organized as previous linkage mapping efforts and became a reference for human genetic diversity studies.

In 2003-2005, he was also involved with Professor Gilles Thomas in the Breast and Prostate Cancer Cohort Consortium, an international project on the genetic factors associated with breast and prostate cancers.

In 2004, Howard Cann was awarded the Paul Doistau-Émile Blutet prize from the French Science Academy for his work.

Howard Cann always kept a young and curious mind and he was still at CEPH at 84 years old coordinating the HGDP-CEPH panel and providing colleagues with precious advices.

Howard was a pioneer in population genetics, a great and enthusiastic scientist involved in all great CEPH initiatives. He always defended the spirit of this centre and principles of his founder Jean Dausset. He will always be in our minds with his smile, his joy of life and his receptiveness.

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