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Arno Motulsky: Father of pharmacogenetics

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 28 February 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k884
  1. Bob Roehr
  1. Washington, DC, USA
  1. BobRoehr{at}
Credit: UW Medicine Medical Genetics

“Mensch”: this is probably the best single word to describe the late Arno Motulsky. The Yiddish word means someone of honour and integrity, a core goodness, and accomplishment, who lacks pretence and is worthy of emulation.

Sure, there were the discoveries, the publications, and the honours that marked a long and storied career, which earned him the sobriquet “father of pharmacogenetics.” But Motulsky took equal joy in rounds with patients, which continued into his 70s, and in the successes of generations of researchers he mentored. What comes through most in reading the autobiographical essay he wrote in 2016 is the optimism, generosity, and joy that permeated his life.

Credit: Clare McLean, UW Medicine

“It was [Motulsky’s] vision to study how heredity could be involved in practically everything,” Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and leader of the Human Genome Project, told the New York Times. He added: “The relationship between heredity and the response to drug therapy—nobody was thinking about that until he stated it 60 years ago. He anticipated it decades before science made it possible to get the answers that he dreamt of.”

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