Fred Hutch scientist Trevor Bedford receives MacArthur Fellowship

Bedford recognized for research and public health contributions in tracking viral spread and evolution

SEATTLE — September 28, 2021 — Dr. Trevor Bedford, an infectious disease scientist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, was selected as a recipient of the 2021 MacArthur Fellowship. Also known as the MacArthur “genius grant,” the honor is awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and provides $625,000 in “no-strings-attached” funding over five years to allow recipients to pursue creative, intellectual and professional endeavors.

“I'm immensely honored and moved to receive this recognition from the MacArthur Foundation,” Bedford said. “It's been a trying and tragic 20 months for the world, but the scientific response to the pandemic has been unparalleled. I'm proud to have been able to play a role.”

Bedford, an associate professor in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease, Public Health Sciences and Human Biology Divisions at Fred Hutch, uses powerful computers and complex statistical methods to study the spread and evolution of viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, influenza, Ebola and Zika viruses. Bedford and his collaborators have been instrumental in tracking and understanding SARS-CoV-2 in real-time.

“As we emerge from the shadows of the past two years, this class of 25 Fellows helps us reimagine what’s possible,” Cecilia Conrad, Managing Director, MacArthur Fellows, said. “They demonstrate that creativity has no boundaries. It happens in all fields of endeavor, among the relatively young and more seasoned, in Iowa and Puerto Rico. Once again, we have the opportunity for exultation as we recognize the potential to create objects of beauty and awe, advance our understanding of society and foment change to improve the human condition.”

Bedford co-developed the open-source platform Nextstrain to provide a continually updated view of viral phylogenetics, or virus “family trees.” During the pandemic, Bedford has assisted public health departments in Washington, Florida, California, Utah, Minnesota and Michigan; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health; the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization in interpreting SARS-CoV-2 genomic data. Along with collaborators from UW Medicine, Seattle Children’s and Fred Hutch, Bedford is a co-investigator of the Seattle Flu Study. Seattle Flu Study researchers detected one of the first cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and warned public health officials that the virus’s genomic data indicated community spread.

“Trevor Bedford raised the bar for scientific creativity and defined an entirely new way to think about innovation while also leveraging existing technology and communication platforms,” Dr. Tom Lynch, president and director of Fred Hutch and holder of the Raisbeck Endowed Chair, said. “Our community, far beyond the walls of Fred Hutch, is benefitting greatly from his contributions.”

The MacArthur Fellowship Program was established in 1981 and this year’s class recognizes 25 new recipients. Individuals are selected for their originality and dedication to their pursuits. Fred Hutch cell biologist Dr. Mark Roth, known for his research into reversible metabolic hibernation, was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2007.

Through Bedford’s data gathering processes, researchers have been able to develop successful strategies for monitoring and controlling infectious diseases. By applying these techniques to document the worldwide spread of COVID-19 and of seasonal flu viruses, his research helps forecast which strains of influenza are likely to be most challenging to humans — data that helps inform the crucial early decisions about which strains to include in annual flu vaccines.

“Trevor is a gifted, creative scientist and communicator. He has humbly taken center stage as a trusted global leader during the COVID-19 pandemic and as a deep thinker in viral phylodynamics and genomic epidemiology,” Dr. Julie McElrath, senior vice president and director of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division at Fred Hutch and holder of the Joel D. Meyers Endowed Chair, said. “His commitment to open science, public health and diversity have an impact on our daily lives and on our future preparedness against emerging pathogens.”

Bedford recently was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, a coveted honor in biomedical research. He received the Open Science Prize in 2017 and the Pew Biomedical Scholar Award in 2016. Bedford is an affiliate associate professor in the Department of Genome Sciences and the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Washington. He received a Ph.D. in Biology from Harvard University and undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago. Bedford shares insights on Twitter @trvrb.

“I'm inspired by the degree to which colleagues from all over the world have been able to elevate the field of genomic epidemiology to respond to the pandemic and the emergence of variant viruses,” Bedford commented. “I look forward to continued global scientific collaboration in the years to come.”

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Media Contact:
Claire Hudson

At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home to three Nobel laureates, interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists seek new and innovative ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. Fred Hutch’s pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation led to the development of immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to treat cancer. An independent, nonprofit research institute based in Seattle, Fred Hutch houses the nation’s first cancer prevention research program, as well as the clinical coordinating center of the Women’s Health Initiative and the international headquarters of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network and COVID-19 Prevention Network.