April 17, 2020

Wayne State Board of Governors’ award honors Henry Heng’s ‘Genome Chaos’ book

Professor Henry Heng, Ph.D., was honored with the Wayne State University Board of Governors Faculty Recognition Award for his book, “Genome Chaos: Rethinking Genetics, Evolution, and Molecular Medicine” (Academic Press, 548 pages), which systematically summarizes 20 years of innovative research projects in the WSU School of Medicine’s Center for a Molecular Medicine and Genetics.

Henry Heng, Ph.D.
Henry Heng, Ph.D.

A two-day “Cancer and Evolution Symposium” is now prepared at Harvard University, and his book is the main scientific thinking behind the meeting.

Dr. Heng is a professor of Pathology and of the Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics.

“I am very honored to receive this award, knowing that there are many impressive entries across the university,” he said.

The book is a 2020 PROSE award finalist of the Association of American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence.

Dr. Heng also wrote “Debating Cancer: The Paradox of Cancer Research” and is co-editor in chief of the Springer journal “Molecular Cytogenetics.”

“Cancer research is my main focus.  In recent years, using cancer as a model system, I have also developed a novel genomic and evolutionary theory. Conceptually, we have introduced the Genome Theory that considers genomic topology (or karyotype) as a new layer of key genomic information, where the genome-coded ‘system inheritance’ rather than gene-defined ‘parts inheritance’ represents the blueprint of bio-systems,” he said.

The Heng lab discovered the “two phases of cancer evolution” - punctuated macrocellular evolution and stepwise Darwinian microcellular evolution - that are commonly detected during the key transitions of cancer evolution, including immortalization, transformation and metastasis to drug resistance.

“Within the punctuated phase, genome chaos - massive and rapid genome re-organization -dominates, which explains rapid cancer evolution,” he said. “We have also established the concept/methodology of measuring genome instability based on the frequency of non-clonal chromosome aberrations, which are essential to understanding the diverse molecular mechanisms of cancer in the context of somatic cell evolution.”

In addition to cancer research, the Heng lab solved the century-long mystery of the main function of sexual reproduction. “Finally, we proposed a new model for macroevolution that departs from traditional concept of using natural selection to explain speciation. These original works have established our reputation internationally,” he added.