Clemson University’s Center for Human Genetics is dedicated to advancing knowledge of the fundamental principles by which genetic and environmental factors determine and predict both healthy traits and susceptibility to disease.
Self family lends more than name to facility that houses Clemson University Center for Human Genetics
Greenwood’s Self family has been a dominant force for improving health care in South Carolina since 1942, when family patriarch James C. Self, founder of Greenwood Mills, established the Self Family Foundation to construct and maintain a modern hospital in the Greenwood community.
The Foundation, now under its fourth generation of family leadership, has long fostered genetics research in the Palmetto State through the creation of the Greenwood Genetics Center, which shares campus space with Self Regional Hall, home to the Clemson University Center for Human Genetics.
The Self family’s passionate interest in medicine and scientific research has also been critical to the success of the 15-year quest to establish the Clemson University Center for Human Genetics, according to Karl Kelly, Clemson University’s director of operations at the Center.
In 2004, the Initiative to create the Center for Human Genetics began with a proposal between Clemson University’s John Kelly, then vice president of public service and agriculture and economic development, and Dr. Roger Stevenson, then-director of the Greenwood Genetics Center, to expand the existing educational and research relationship between the university and the GGC.
The GGC itself had been established decades earlier with extensive assistance from the Self Family Foundation, which facilitated Stevenson’s dream to build a center for the clinical support of patients with genetic disorders. Jim Self, who inherited his father’s roles both as philanthropist and as a leader in the region’s textile industry, helped solidify creation of the GGC by working with the state Department of Social Services to establish initial support for the center.
In August 2005, an accord was signed with the intent of securing funding for construction of the Clemson University Center for Human Genetics. The funding was provided through a state appropriations bill that required a local match. By 2007, a comprehensive match had been secured using resources from several sources, including the Greenwood Genetics Center, which provided a lease agreement valued at more than $13 million, plus additional funds and material considerations from both the city and the county.
Then the center was hit by delays that would cost the project more than a decade, according to Kelly.
“It’s a real testament to the leadership of Greenwood County and the city of Greenwood that they worked with us through political opposition for over 10 years to retain the funding in place,” Kelly said.
Because of the delay, the building’s price tag rose by almost 25 percent, leaving a shortfall of almost $2 million, according to Kelly. Again, the Self family name was a part of the solution, as the university turned to Self Regional Healthcare, which contributed $5.6 million, of which $2 million was allocated to the building, and $3.6 million was dedicated to research.
In December 2015, Clemson University released the center to file with the state Commission for Higher Education for the match and remaining funds; the documentation was approved in early 2016.
In May 2016, construction on the center was completed, ahead of schedule and under budget, and in February of 2017, an official ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the opening of the Self Regional Hall.
In 2018, the university secured Dr. Trudy Mackay as director of the center. Mackay is also the Self Family Endowed Chair in Human Genetics, a chair that was created in part by funds from the Self Family Foundation.
On July 1, 2018, the center officially opened its doors.
The goals of the Center are:
To leverage comprehensive systems genetic approaches and comparative genomics to elucidate fundamental principles of the genetic underpinnings of human complex traits, including disease risk.
To promote precision medicine by developing advanced mathematical models to predict disease risk and assess therapeutic benefits based on genetic and environmental factors.
To develop local, regional, national and international collaborations to advance human genetics and to generate genetic repositories and data bases as resources for the scientific community.
To educate the next generation of human geneticists by providing educational opportunities for high school students and their teachers, for undergraduate and graduate students, for postdoctoral fellows and visiting scientists.
To promote public understanding of human genetics through community outreach.