In Memoriam: Deborah Ann Nickerson, 1954-2021

Deborah Ann Nickerson, a professor of genome sciences at the University of Washington and one of the most frequently cited scientists of the past decade, died late last year at her home in Seattle. She was 67 years old. The cause of death was aggressive abdominal cancer, diagnosed less than a week before her death.

Professor Nickerson was born in Mineola, New York on Long Island. Her parents owned a garden center where she often worked as a child. She received her bachelor’s degree from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, and her Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Kentucky, she joined the faculty at the University of South Florida. Her interest in the intersection of technology and immunology drew her in the late 1980s to the laboratory of Leroy Hood at Caltech. She moved with Profesor Hood to the University of Washington in 1992 and became a founding member of a new department of genome sciences.

At the time of her death, Dr. Nickerson directed one of five Mendelian research centers established by the NIH to investigate genetic causes of diseases caused by severely damaging aberrations in single genes. She was a leading figure in applying genomic sequencing to advance precision medicine for diverse populations. Throughout her career, Professor Nickerson was a strong advocate for increasing the presence of women in science.

“For more than two decades, Debbie Nickerson has been a true leader in the application of genomic sequencing to precision medicine,” wrote Dr. Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health. “Always pushing the existing boundaries with an infectious mix of creativity, vision, impatience, and a wicked sense of humor, Debbie exhorted herself and everyone around her to do more than they thought they could. Her imprint on genomic medicine is profound, and she will be sorely missed.”

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