Profile: Genetics Chief Chester Brown, PhD

Creating map for precision medicine brings Brown to Le Bonheur

Chester Brown, PhD, says one day he’ll be able to study a child’s genetic blueprint and assess his or her risk for certain diseases. He’ll be able to create a roadmap of precision-based medicine that helps physicians develop the most effective treatment options for children.

Brown, a medical geneticist, recently joined Le Bonheur as its Genetics division chief in June. He serves as chief of genetics with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, as well as a professor and the St. Jude Chair of Excellence in Genetics for Department of Pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

He comes to Memphis from Baylor College of Medicine where he helped build one of the world’s largest and most respected genetics programs. Brown spent 20 years as a faculty member in the departments of Molecular and Human Genetics and Pediatrics and as a research faculty member in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Brown said one of his first goals at Le Bonheur is to expand the hospital’s genetics program, focusing on clinical vision, research and education.

“It’s clear that there’s an important need in the community for genetics and genomics education,” Brown said. “We really need to help people understand the power of these technologies — what they do, what they can’t do. Not just in the hospital’s bubble but in the broader Memphis community.”

Brown’s vision for educating the community about the importance of genomics will be vital to the program’s success, said Pediatric Endocrinologist Joan Han, MD, director of Le Bonheur’s Pediatric Obesity Program. Han and her team members work closely with the genetics program to study and find the best treatments for obese children.

brown body

With his extensive background in genetics, Han said Brown is one of the most prominent researchers in his field.

“Genetic factors greatly contribute to a patient’s predisposition for developing obesity and obesity-related health complications. With his expertise in the genetics of body composition, Dr. Brown has been a wonderful partner and enthusiastic supporter of the Pediatric Obesity Program and our mission to advance personalized approaches for the prevention of treatment of childhood obesity,” Han said. “He has infused our program, as well as the genetics division, with vital new ideas for improving patient care and designing cutting-edge research studies that could impact how physicians worldwide diagnose and manage genetic disorders.”

And designing state-of-the-art research studies includes expanding Le Bonheur’s efforts to securely collect and store a child’s anonymized health and genetic information to help create precision medicines based approaches that will allow physicians to provide better care for their patients. Collected DNA will be stored in Le Bonheur’s biorepository and that information will be used for future research studies.

“With our biorepository efforts, we want patients to come in and give permission to use their leftover blood samples so that their DNA samples can be used for research purposes,” Brown said. “We can take their DNA information to inform doctors how to take care of their patients.” 

He has spent much of his career focused on studying how genes control lean and fat body mass, more recently studying how host genomic factors influence HIV and tuberculosis progression in African children, while training African scientists how to carry out such studies independently.

Brown also is a co-investigator with the Collaborative African Genomic Network (CAfGen) and Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) consortium, funded by the National Institutes of Health, which aims to use genomic approaches to discover factors that influence the progression of HIV and HIV-TB in African children. He has authored more than 30 publications in various scientific medical journals.

Another area Brown said he will focus on is expanding genomic research studies in African Americans in the Memphis area. Although African Americans are a majority in Memphis, Brown said that population is underrepresented in research studies that use genomic science.

“We are offering a unique opportunity to contribute to the broader picture of genomics and how genes might impact the care of patients in this community,” Brown said. “Is there anything different that we can learn from African ancestry and how can we inform everyone about mechanisms that can contribute to different diseases.” 

While advancing Le Bonheur’s growing Le Bonheur’s genetics division, Brown also plans on recruiting additional practitioners and developing new genetics-based programs that will rely heavily on DNA sequencing.

“With growing the clinical side, our practitioners will be able to take care of patients with genetic disorders, and our institute as a whole will be able to develop programs that allow us to do world-class research,” Brown said. “Our ultimate goal is to generate data that will inform doctors how to best take care of our patients.”

Education and Training

Baylor College of Medicine – Residency Medical Genetics
Baylor College of Medicine – Residency Pediatrics
University of Cincinnati College of Medicine – Medical School

Howard University – B.S. Zoology/Chemistry

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