Brotman Baty Institute’s Helen Chu named ‘Washingtonian the Year’

Dr. Chu led the team that discovered first COVID-19 case of community spread in the United States.


Dr. Helen Chu A University of Washington physician and professor, whose team of researchers identified the first case of the coronavirus in the United States, has been named “Washingtonian of the Year.”

Dr. Helen Chu of the Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine (BBI) at the UW’s School of Medicine, was cited for the discovery and ongoing work leading to COVID-related therapies, treatments, and vaccines, all of which “has helped shape the state’s response to the coronavirus.”

Chu is one of the principal investigators of the Seattle Flu Study (SFS), a collaborative research project to detect, monitor and control the flu in Seattle in partnership with BBI, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Seattle Children’s. Last year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the SFS led to the creation of Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network (SCAN), a group of medical, public health and research organizations, including Seattle-King County Public Health, working together to understand the spread of virus in the greater Seattle region. The goal of SCAN is to understand the outbreak more completely and, along with other data sources, help inform public health decisions.

“I am humbled by and deeply appreciative of this award honoring not just me and BBI, but more importantly, all faculty and staff associated with the Seattle Flu Study and SCAN,” Chu said. “There remains much we do not know about COVID-19. It is imperative that we continue to study transmission, infection, and treatment.”

In announcing the award on behalf of the Washington State Leadership Board, the Office of the Lieutenant Governor called out the efforts of the SFS team last February to request federal approval to test swabs already collected for the coronavirus. That request was denied, however, as the coronavirus spread from China to other nations, the team decided to analyze the swabs without federal authorization, leading within days to the first documented positive case in the United States.

“Their discovery and ongoing work has helped shape the state’s response to the coronavirus,” according to the statement.

“Congratulations to Dr. Chu and her team on being recognized for their significant contributions to tracking COVID-19,” said UW President Dr. Ana Mari Cauce. “Leaders like Dr. Chu have been key to our ability to play a lead role in the fight against the pandemic, and I am incredibly proud of the work happening at the UW as exemplified by Dr. Chu.”

This was not Chu’s first award recognizing her COVID-related work. She was named Health Care Researcher of the Year for 2020 by the Puget Sound Business Journal and was honored with a national Emergent Ventures Prize for Social Leadership from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

“Dr. Chu’s leadership has been integral to BBI’s success,” said Dr. Jay Shendure, BBI’s Scientific Director. “The recognition she and the SFS team have received reflects their uncompromising commitment to leading edge scientific study.”

Chu joined the UW in 2012 after residency at Harvard University; she earned her medical degree from Duke University in 2005. In addition to her affiliation with BBI, she is a board-certified physician with UW Medicine, a UW associate professor of Medicine and Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and an adjunct associate professor of Epidemiology and Global Health.

Since 1975, the state leadership board has hosted the annual Washington Leadership Awards ceremony. In addition to Chu, the other honorees in 2021 are: Northwest Harvest for Organization of the Year, Community Passageways for the Washington Justice For All Award, and Bill Gates Sr. and Jim Ellis for the Washington Legacy of Service Award. Past award recipients include community leaders and philanthropists, such as Paul Allen and Priscilla Bullitt Collins.

“It is important that as a state, we recognize and elevate the people and organizations who exemplify outstanding leadership,” said Lt. Governor Denny Heck. “This year’s recipients have each demonstrated a tireless commitment to improving the lives of others, showing us all what strong, thoughtful leadership looks like. I am proud our state will recognize their enormous contributions.”

An awards ceremony will be held virtually at 6 pm on Tuesday, February 16th. For more information, contact


Dean R. Owen, Director of Communications The Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine; +1.253.906.8645


The Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine, or BBI, was founded in November 2017 by UW Medicine, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Seattle Children’s. Its mission is to have a transformative impact on biomedical research and patient outcomes through the development and application of precision approaches to healthcare. Its world-renowned investigators work together on shared scientific interests in areas including medical genetics, cancer biology, infectious disease and technology development.