Erlich, Henry

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Erlich, Henry


Since the early 1980s, Henry A. Erlich has been well-known in the forensic and medical communities for helping to pioneer the research and development of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR ) technique that ultimately lead to a number of important forensic and clinical applications. As a result of the pioneering efforts of Erlich and his team of scientists, the first commercial PCR typing kit was developed specifically for forensic use. Currently, Erlich is the director of the Department of Human Genetics and vice-president of Discovery Research, both for Roche Molecular Systems, Inc.; and the co-director (and co-founder) of the HLA Laboratory at the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Instituteall three located in the San Francisco Bay Area of California.

Erlich grew up in Seattle, Washington. He began his bachelor's of art degree in 1961 at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he completed his degree in 1965 with a major in biochemical sciences. That same year, Erlich was a research assistant at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Erlich then began his advanced degree, completing his doctor's of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in 1972 from the University of Washington (Seattle) with a genetics concentration. While working on his degree in 1967, Erlich also worked with street gangs as a Vista volunteer in New Mexico. Erlich did his postdoctoral work in microbial genetics (19721975) at Princeton University in New Jersey, where he was employed as a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton's Department of Biology. Erlich did further postdoctoral work in immunogenetics (19751979) at Stanford University (California), where he was employed as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford's Department of Medicine, Division of Immunology.

After completing his postdoctoral studies, Erlich became a scientist at Cetus Corporation, an Oakland-area biopharmaceutical/biotechnology company located in Emeryville, California, where he held various teaching positions and served on the editorial boards of such industry publications as Human Immunology, PCR Methods and Applications, and Technique. Erlich was later promoted to senior scientist and director of the Human Genetics Department, both positions that he held until 1991.

During his early-1980s work with Cetus, Erlich led the human genetics group in the research of PCR techniques. He was especially interested in developing technology for the study of human genetic variation, and with it the applications in forensics and clinical medicine. In 1986, Erlich's research resulted in development of a PCR technique that ultimately produced a number of clinical and forensic applications. Also in 1986, in what is generally considered the first use of PCR-based forensic DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) analysis in a U.S. court case, Erlich carried out the confirmation that two autopsy samples came from the same person in the case Pennsylvania v. Pestinikas. About two years later, Erlich and his scientific team saw the development of a commercial PCR typing kit as the first forensic application within the United States of DNA typing of HLA-DQA (human leukocyte antigen with a DQ alpha PCR test) locus.

Erlich transferred to Roche Molecular Systems, Inc., located in Alameda, California, in 1991 when the company acquired the rights of PCR technology from Cetus. Today, Erlich holds three important positions with Roche: director of Roche's Human Genetics Department, since 1992; co-director of the HLA Laboratory at the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI), in Oakland, California, since 1996; and vice president of Roche's Discovery Research, since 2000. Erich's work at CHORI puts into clinical practice the technologies that he had developed for PCR-based HLA typing.

The primary research performed by Erlich in concert with Roche involves the analysis of molecular evolution and population genetics of HLA genes along with human genetic variation and genetic susceptibility to diseases, especially on autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes. He also researches the analysis of polymorphism in HLA genes and the development of HLA typing for class I and class II loci within tissue typing and transplantation, anthropological genetics, and individual identification .

Erlich maintains an academic affiliation with the Stanford School of Medicines, where he is an adjunct professor of medical microbiology and immunology. In addition, he also sits on several editorial boards (such as Human Mutation and Tissue Antigens ); participates on numerous human genetics committees (such as the International Histocompatibility Council and the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence-Research and Development Working Group); and is a member of the American Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics and the American Society for Human Genetics. Erlich has authored several books, with one of the latest titled PCR Technology: Principles and Applications for DNA Amplification.

Erlich has also been bestowed with many honors within genetic research and writing including such awards as the Gideon Goldstein Award (Walter and Eliza Institutes, 1989), the Biochemical Analysis Award (German Society of Clinical Chemistry, 1990), the Brown-Hazen Award (Wadsworth Center for Laboratories and Research, 1990), The Rose Payne Award (American Society of Histocompatibility Immunogenetics, 1990), the Advanced Technology in Biotechnology Milano Award (International Federation of Clinical Chemistry, 1991), the Award for Excellence (Association for Molecular Pathology, 2000), the Profiles in DNA Courage Award (National Institute of Justice , 2000), and the Colonel Harland Sanders Award (March of Dimes Clinical Genetics Conference, 2000).

see also DNA; PCR (polymerase chain reaction).