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Melissa Haendel, PhD, and her lab of 25-plus members will join UNC-Chapel Hill to focus on early diagnosis of childhood diseases and significantly improve quality of life outcomes.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is delighted to welcome Dr. Melissa A. Haendel, PhD, FACMI, as the Sarah Graham Kenan Distinguished Professor in the Department of Genetics within the School of Medicine, starting April 15. Haendel’s groundbreaking work in biomedical informatics is set to significantly contribute to our pursuit of advanced healthcare solutions. In addition to her primary appointment, she will bring her considerable knowledge to the roles of professor in both the Department of Pediatrics and the forward-thinking School of Data Science and Society.

She joins UNC-CH from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, where she leads the Translational and Integrative Sciences Laboratory and is the Chief Research Informatics officer, Marsico endowed chair in data science, and a Professor of Biomedical Informatics in the CU School of Medicine.

Expressing her enthusiasm, Haendel remarks, “The opportunity to collaborate with the vibrant communities at UNC-CH, UNC Health, and throughout North Carolina is incredibly exciting. We are poised to make genomic medicine a reality for all North Carolinians, leveraging our team’s diverse skills to tackle the most pressing issues in precision medicine.”

Haendel will serve as the Director of Precision Health & Translational Informatics and contribute her expertise as Deputy Director of Computational Science at NC TraCS, the hub of the UNC Clinical and Translational Science Award. Additionally, she will advise on Research Data Interoperability within the UNC Health System and participate in both the Computational Medicine Program and the Program in Precision Medicine and Healthcare. This combination of roles is expected to greatly extend the reach of her impactful work.

Emily Pfaff, PhD, assistant professor in the UNC Department of Medicine,commented “Melissa’s emphasis on the importance of collaboration and team science in informatics will make her an asset to our CTSA. She brings a number of exciting projects emphasizing critical areas in translational science, including real world data analysis, data linkage, and using informatics methods to address rare diseases and rural health disparities. As a long-time collaborator of Melissa’s, I could not be more excited to welcome her and her team to UNC Chapel Hill.”

“We are absolutely delighted that Dr. Melissa Haendel is joining us in the UNC School of Medicine,” said Blossom Damania, PhD, Vice Dean for Research, School of Medicine. “Dr. Haendel is an international leader in informatics and data science. She is an exceptional scientist with a remarkable vision to advance public health surveillance for rare diseases. Melissa has already established significant collaborations with many faculty across the School of Medicine, UNC campus, and UNC Health. Her research program will advance the early diagnosis of childhood diseases and significantly improve quality of life outcomes. We are thrilled to have Dr. Haendel as part of our community.”

Haendel characterizes her work as “the art of data translation,” leading initiatives that aim to improve data integration and promote collaborative education. She has played a pivotal role in enhancing national data sharing and interoperability – particularly notable during the COVID-19 pandemic with the creation of the National COVID Cohort Collaborative Data (N3C), which has been vital in our understanding of the virus. This work earned her and her team the NIH/FASEB DataWorks! Grand Prize in 2023.

“We are enormously excited and grateful that Melissa has decided to join us in the Department of Genetics. Her recruitment is perfectly aligned with the department’s strategic investments over the past four years in support of team science,” said Fernando Pardo-Manuel de Villena, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Genetics. “Her program is an exceptional example of how to accelerate and multiply the impact of research conducted by faculty and trainees in a basic science department in the School of Medicine.”

Haendel also co-founded the Monarch Initiative, an international consortium dedicated to the integration of model organism and human data to support rare disease diagnostics and mechanism discovery. She brings with her to UNC a National Human Genome Research Institute Center of Excellence in Genome Sciences that is dedicated to making phenotypic data computable for genomic health applications.

“The talents and expertise brought by Haendel and her team will enable us to dramatically improve and streamline the way that patients with rare disease are identified, diagnosed, and cared for within the UNC Health system.  We are also excited about the many opportunities for collaboration on genomic medicine research projects led by faculty in the Department of Genetics”, said Jonathan Berg, MD, PhD, the Bryson Distinguished Professor in the UNC Departments of Genetics and Medicine.

After earning her doctorate in neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, she completed post-doctoral fellowships in developmental biology at the University of Oregon and in toxicology at Oregon State University. In 2010, Haendel joined the Oregon Health & Science University faculty. She joined the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in 2021. Haendel is currently a principal investigator on 10 externally funded programs totaling more than $25 million per year. She is the author of more than 190 peer-reviewed research articles and 57 book chapters, editorials, and reviews. Her work is frequently referenced in the scientific literature, with more than 20,000 citations to date.


This article originally appeared in the UNC Health Newsroom HERE.