Rudolf Jaenisch was born in Wolfelsgrund, Germany in 1942. He received his M.D. from the University of Munich in 1967 and was a Postdoctoral Fellow first at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, Munich, and then at Princeton University. Following a period as a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia, Dr Jaenisch joined the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, where he remained from 1972 to 1977, rising from Assistant to Associate Research Professor. In 1977 he returned to Germany, where until 1984 he was Head of the Department of Tumor Virology at the Heinrich Pette Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology at the University of Hamburg. In 1984 Dr Jaenisch accepted his current position as a Founding Member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dr Jaenisch is a pioneer in transgenic science (making mouse models of human disease). These methods have been used to explore basic questions such as the role of DNA modification, genomic imprinting, and X chromosome inactivation. Dr Jaenisch's mouse models have produced important advances in understanding cancer, neurological disorders, connective tissue diseases, and developmental abnormalities in muscle and bone. One of the most intriguing models, involving an enzyme called DNA methyltransferase (Mtase), has led to a potential new strategy for cancer therapy. Other models could speed the development of new drugs to fight Alzheimer's disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease).
Dr Jaenisch is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Microbiology, and a Member of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. In 1996 he was honored with the Boehringer Mannheim Molecular Bioanalytics Prize.