Skip to main content
Briggs collage
Spring 2017 LBC Commencement Speaker Mark Kay

Mark Kay

This year's spring commencement speaker is Distinguished Alumnus Dr. Mark Kay. Dr. Kay graduated from Lyman Briggs College in 1980 with a degree in Physical Sciences, and went on to receive an MD, PhD at Case Western Reserve University.

Dr. Kay is currently the Dennis Farrey Family Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Professor of Genetics, at Stanford University's School of Medicine. He is the Head of the Division of Human Gene Therapy and the Associate Chair for Basic Research in the Department of Pediatrics.

Coming from a family of physicians but also interested in science, Kay was unsure of his major when he began studying at Michigan State. Lyman Briggs College appealed to him because it allowed him to keep both options open. He was also drawn to the small community feel of the college. He enjoyed surrounding himself with like-minded students and faculty.

As Kay debated between medicine and scientific research, Lyman Briggs gave him the opportunity to explore career choices in both fields. Kay volunteered at a nearby hospital during his undergraduate years while also getting hands-on research experience. The opportunity to work in a real research lab gave him a new perspective on science.

After graduating, Kay entered a Medical Science Training Program and received both an MD and PhD, still undecided on which field to pursue. He completed his residency and subspecialty training as well as postdoctoral research. Early in his career, he saw patients but mostly concentrated on developing his independent research program.

Dr. Kay's research focuses on two main areas of genetics: gene therapy and non-coding RNAs. His group has published over 250 papers in leading journals including 40 in top journals such as Science, Nature, The New England Journal of Medicine, Nature Genetics, Nature Biotechnology and Nature Structural Molecular Biology. He has been a true bench-tobedside physician-scientist working in basic science discovery as well as clinical gene therapy trials.

Dr. Kay is one of the founders of the American Society for Gene and Cell Therapy and served as the President in 2005-2006. He received their highest honor, the Outstanding Investigator Award in 2013. He is serving his 5th 2-year term on the board of directors of the Oligonucleotide Therapeutic Society. He has been editor and associate editor of several gene therapy journals.

In his address to the spring 2017 LBC graduates, Dr. Kay plans to discuss the importance of truth in science. One of the biggest take-aways Kay received from his HPS classes in Lyman Briggs was the effect science has on society, and the responsibility of a scientist to educate the public.

Large bird holding a duck in its mouth

"Truth," he says, "is one of the great things about science."

In a time when truth is often skewed and anti-science mentalities gain momentum, Kay wants to remind students that even science can be corrupted or misinterpreted.

An example he uses with his own students comes from a photo he took. A long-time lover of photography, Kay has an impressive collection of nature photography, including a photo of a large bird holding a duck in its mouth.

Most who see the photo assume that the larger bird is eating the duck, but Kay's next photo reveals that it was actually moving the duck out of its way. Dr. Kay uses this photo to teach students not to make assumptions, and to pay close attention to how well their data supports their conclusion.

Mark Kay has been selected as the keynote commencement speaker and recipient of the Lyman Briggs College Distinguished Alumni award. He will speak at the Spring 2017 LBC Commencement Ceremony in May.