Dr. Sanger's Story

Warren G Sanger, PhD, FFACMG, was the Director of our Human Genetics Laboratory from 1979 - 2015, but his story doesn't start, or end, there.

Born in Minden, Nebraska in 1945, Warren's youth was spent on his family's farm 31 minutes north in Franklin, Nebraska. He attended a small country school and played baseball and football at Franklin's High School. From a young age he was also an avid fisherman and hunter. Warren attended Kearney State College (Kearney, NE) to earn a BS in Biology, followed by an MS in Genetics at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL) in 1969.

During his time at Kearney State College, Warren was a Teaching Assistant in both Chemistry and Biology, and while studying at UNL, he was a Teaching Assistant in Genetics, Human Genetics, and Histology.

From 1969-1971 Warren served in the military as a counter intelligence agent and biology instructor at the University of Maryland, Far East Division in Seoul, Korea. He received an Honorable Discharge and Commendation Medal, a decoration for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service. He returned to Omaha to continue his education here at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and completed his PhD in Genetics in 1974. The following year, at just the age of 30, Dr. Sanger became an assistant professor of pediatrics and joined the newly established Human Genetics Laboratory. What follows can best be summarized as the legacy of Dr. Sanger.

Dr. Sanger was a Founding Fellow of the American Board of Medical Genetics (ABMG), dually boarded in Clinical Cytogenetics and PhD Medical Genetics by the American College of Medical Genetics (ACMG) and the American Medical Association, and a full professor of pediatrics, the Munroe-Meyer Institute, and pathology/microbiology. In addition to directing our laboratory which numbers nearly 70 employees, Dr. Sanger served on countless boards and committees, including the Children’s Oncology Group (Lymphoma Cytogenetics Chair), Lymphoma Study Group, and the Medical Science Interdepartmental Area Graduate Committee. For many years, he was also the director of MMI’s department of Genetic Medicine, overseeing the clinical staff which included six geneticists and nine genetic counselors. Before many laboratories chose to do so, Warren employed genetic counselors as liaisons to fill the expanding needs that intertwine health care providers, laboratory staff, and the families we all work to assist.

Throughout his tenure, Dr. Sanger served as a cytogenetics advisor for several professional organizations within the United States and reviewed manuscripts for many journals. He authored or co-authored nearly 300 publications and book chapters and more than 400 published abstracts and posters. His commitment to education was evident through the sizeable number of MS and PhD graduate students he advised (27!), in addition to serving on the MS or PhD committees of more than 100 other students. Under his leadership, five fellows received their degrees in Clinical Cytogenetics, including Drs. Dave and Sanmann, current associate directors of our Human Genetics Laboratory, and Dr. Starr, geneticist in UNMC's department of Medical Genetics. Annually, Dr. Sanger taught graduate students in Human Genetics 518, Human Genetics 911, and Human Cytogenetics 912. He welcomed OB/GYN, Pathology, and Pediatric residents to the laboratory for monthly Human Cytogenetics rotations. He was routinely an invited lecturer for graduate courses in Pharmacology, Neurology, Anatomy, Biochemistry, Pathology, and various other courses at UNL. Credited with more than 100 presentations, it was not uncommon for him to travel within Nebraska, across the nation, and even around the globe to provide genetic education.

But his accomplishments were not limited to the medical field. Although his passion for work was not a secret, neither was his love for fishing (his license plate read 02BFSHN), particularly with his son, Travis. The Sanger-Duo competed in a variety of tournaments across Nebraska and South Dakota, many times securing trophies for their days' work, such as being named "2006 Top Gun Team of the Year" by the Nebraska Walleye Association. Although it was difficult for him to be away from the lab for more than a day or two, he cherished time spent with his wife, Dixie, and their dog, Brinkley, at their Florida home-away-from-home.

Dr. Sanger was largely interested in the areas of cancer genetics, the genetic causes of birth defects and developmental disabilities, and prenatal diagnoses. He pioneered our laboratory through many advancements in genetic testing, which began with traditional chromosome analysis, but grew to include FISH (and, no - that's not a pun!), methylation, microarray, Sanger sequencing (no, neither is that), and next generation sequencing.  Recently, the genetic world also discovered whole genome sequencing, (which abbreviated, is Warren's initials - WGS). Seriously?? This guy was MADE for genetics!

And then our big one got away. But his story is not a tall tale and the truth has not been stretched, not even a little. Because there's no need for fabrication or boastfulness when a person was as wholesomely good as Warren - a friend to all who knew him. He was first our leader, but foremost, he was our friend. When Warren died on February 5, 2015, Dixie and Travis lost a man they so deeply loved, the genetics world lost a giant, and the heart of our laboratory was severely broken. In the days that followed, our grief fueled our heightened commitment to remain focused in upholding all Warren had created, and promoting our laboratory's mission had never seemed more critical. We took an oath to continue what his colleagues have come to know as Warren's "patient-first" promise. Our days will never be the same without him, but all the same, are better because of him.