Return to Newsletter Home

Joe Leigh Simpson In Perspective…

This issue’s “In Perspective” features an interview with Joe Leigh Simpson, ISPD’s founding President and current Senior Vice President for Research and Global Programs for March of Dimes. Dr. Simpson is world-renowned for his contributions to our field and has been a lifelong friend and supporter of our Society. He agreed to give our fourth interview. 

Prenatal Perpectives (PP): Where did you grow up?  
Joe Leigh Simpson (JLS):  McComb Mississippi, with a population of 12,000.

Where do you live now? 
New York City ‒ in walking distance of the Metropolitan Opera House

Where do you work? 
March of Dimes Foundation in Westchester County

What was your training? 
Pediatrics (Internship), Obstetrics and Gynecology (Residency), Cytogenetics and Medical Genetics (Fellowship)

What are your current areas of interest? 
The research portfolio I oversee at the March of Dimes concerns the etiology and prevention of preterm birth; gene discovery and translation; developmental biology — all constant sources of wonder to me.  My own research is in different fields collaborating with respected Chinese colleagues (Zi-Jiang Chen and Yingying Qin) in elucidating the genetics of premature ovarian failure. 

What had the biggest influence on your career choices? 
My competing fascination with both reproduction and genetics as a student. This was reinforced when I realized that new technologies for genetic testing will always develop and become easily applied. Time is the only variable. 

Who had the biggest influence on your career choices? 
James German (Cornell Medical College), M.D., my mentor in genetics.  In his lab I began to learn cytogenetics and medical genetics, started to develop presentation skills, and tried to master scientific writing. I also benefitted from wonderful ob-gyn mentors at Duke and Cornell during my formative clinical years. 

How is your daily work divided? Do you do any clinical work? 
In my present role as Senior Vice President for Research and Global Programs, I have administrative and scientific responsibilities for a broad grant portfolio that awards (too few) worthy recipients. This limits my clinical involvement to diagnostic consultation, mostly in preimplantation genetic diagnosis working with Svetlana Rechitsky (Reproductive Genetic Innovations). 

How do you stay up-to-date? 
With difficulty, but plane rides provide regular opportunities.  

What is your favorite medical journal? 
So many! Nature and Science for the news and arcane topics outside our skill set, and naturally Prenatal Diagnosis. Of course our traditional genetics journals and those covering reproductive medicine complement the field. The Tuesday New York Times Science section is not bad either. 

In your opinion, what has had the greatest impact on prenatal diagnosis? 
Innovations from the contemporary biotechnology industry have greatly facilitated diagnostic advances. Rapidity of advances obtained and automated in biotechnology simply cannot be matched by traditional academic entities. 

What is your primary motivator in life? 
To be among those who make a difference in advancing scientific knowledge for improving health.

What discourages you the most? 
Individuals who fail to follow through on promises. 

What advice would you give to the juniors in the specialty? 
Realize that the surfeit of genetic advances requires more time and mentorship than anticipated. But this is necessary in order to reach a comfort level from which one’s own novel ideas can be explored. 

Lastly, if you are not in the laboratory, where are we likely to find you? 
Watching an opera ‒ anywhere ‒ preferably preceded by culinary indulgence. 

In Perspective is developed and edited by Reem S. Abu-Rustum, MD. Please send comments and suggestions to