"I went to medical school thinking I would do research," says David Ginsburg, who grew up in New York and New Jersey and enrolled in a combined MD/PhD program at Duke University. But he never finished the PhD. "I discovered I loved medicine."
At Michigan, Ginsburg’s career has been distinguished in both clinical practice and basic research. He is the former chief of clinical genetics and a Howard Hughes Institute Investigator. As a physician, Ginsburg is board certified in four specialties: hematology, oncology, internal medicine and clinical genetics.
During his training in hematology (blood and circulation) and a year on the faculty at Harvard in hematology/oncology, Ginsburg started to ask fundamental questions about how the blood clotting system works, especially how it works in humans. "It's a set of questions that thrives at the boundary between human medicine and pure basic science," he says.
Blood clotting goes with the circulatory system, which is to say, its evolutionary roots are as far back as the advent of vertebrates, Ginsburg explains. Invertebrates, by contrast, are just a pool of blood, and have no circulatory system. With evolutionary fine-tuning, the circulatory system’s clotting response—which involves the products of hundreds of genes—is carefully calibrated to be just right: too little clotting response, and even a minor injury would result in fatal bleeding; too much clotting could produce blockages in critical blood vessels, leading to diseases such as strokes, heart attacks and lung embolisms.
As a post-doctoral fellow, Ginsburg cloned the gene for von Willebrand factor, one of the proteins that is critical to the cascade of reactions causing blood to clot. "Von Willebrand disease was a mystery. It was kind of attractive to try to figure this out."
Since joining the U-M in 1985, Ginsburg’s work has branched out within this question to identify the many subtypes of von Willebrand disease and the specific gene mutations that bring them about. More than being just an assistance to families who suffer this relatively rare disorder, the work has broader scientific implications as well, Ginsburg says. "We follow it where it leads, and by studying human disease it leads to some fundamental biological insights."
During 2002-2003, Ginsburg was on sabbatical study at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Ginsburg is also Chair of the Board of Scientific Counselors for another NIH Institute, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). He’s also a past president of the American Society for Clinical Investigation and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.
With NHGRI Director Francis S. Collins and U-M Human Genetics Chair Thomas Gelehrter, Ginsburg has co-authored a popular text for medical students, "Principles of Medical Genetics."