Duke Announces Reorganization of Genome Sciences

Several new units being spun out of Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy

DURHAM, N.C. -- After more than a decade of rich scientific discovery and significant faculty and student recruitment, the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy (IGSP) will be evolving into several new programs as of July 1.

"With the success of the Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy under the skillful leadership of Hunt Willard, the genome sciences have grown from being a distinct discipline into a collection of approaches and tools that permeate imaginative and path-breaking research across our campus," said Nancy Andrews, dean of the medical school. "Today, genomics impacts everything from comparative studies of primate evolution, to the diagnosis of infection before symptoms have appeared, to the discovery of new genetic disorders in individual patients. New programs emerging from the success of IGSP will define a next generation of genome science and its applications."

Since its launch in 2003, the IGSP has recruited more than 35 new faculty members to Duke and supported more than 75 research programs in six schools and 20 departments.  Faculty members affiliated with IGSP from across the Duke campus have garnered more than $260 million in research grants over the last decade, nearly four times the university's initial investment in creating the institute.

Willard said that the IGSP also spawned new education programs for undergraduates and graduate and professional students and established several shared scientific cores that provide services to hundreds of labs across Duke’s campus. Those facilities and faculty members will continue their work at Duke under different organizations.

At the conclusion of Willard's term as the founding IGSP director on June 30, the IGSP will evolve into three distinct units that will continue to interact around shared projects and their shared culture of interdisciplinary science and university-wide collaboration.

A new center headed by Greg Wray, professor of biology, will continue to provide education, research and training in genomics and computational biology, hosting a suite of core resources and a coherent research community involving faculty from several schools. The center will take a quantitative approach to fundamental genomic questions from a wide variety of fields, including medicine, engineering, environment and the natural sciences. It will provide an intellectual home for students and faculty in diverse fields who are pushing the boundaries of genomic analysis. "We will be implementing the technology that other people are going to be using in five years," Wray said.

A center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine will be headed by Geoff Ginsburg, a professor of medicine and biomedical engineering, who led the genomic medicine group within IGSP. This new unit will be dedicated to applying genome-inspired insights to improve patient care. An interdisciplinary team of physicians and scientists will use molecular patient profiles, quantitative analysis and engineering principles to develop new biomarkers of disease for better prevention, prediction and treatment. "This new center will discover, develop and apply genome-based diagnostic and prognostic tests with the goal of enhancing the efficiency and efficacy of health care delivery," Ginsburg said. 

The third major component is Duke Science & Society that was launched under the IGSP last year. It will welcome its first class of master’s students in bioethics and science policy in Fall 2014. Headed by Nita Farahany, a professor of law and philosophy who is also a member of the U.S. Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, Science & Society will become a campus-wide program that promotes interdisciplinary education, engagement, and scholarship to ensure that scientific research delivers tangible benefits to society. "It will address a wide range of ethical, legal and policy questions about the interrelationship between science and society, and foster new opportunities for researchers and students to share their insights with the wider public," Farahany said.

A PhD program in computational biology and bioinformatics (CBB), founded by the IGSP, will continue to be led by Alexander Hartemink, the Alexander F. Hehmeyer Associate Professor of Computer Science, Statistical Science and Biology.

As before under the IGSP, many Duke faculty members from many departments may be affiliated with one or more of these units because of their interdisciplinary nature, said Susan Roth, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies. "By design, there's overlap between these new units and other activities at Duke, reflecting the university’s commitment to encouraging research that cuts across administrative and disciplinary boundaries."

"Science evolves and changes, and the university should change with it," said Provost Peter Lange. "Few areas of science have moved as quickly and become as scientifically pervasive over the last decade as genomic science. The IGSP was created to promote this revolution at Duke, and it has succeeded."

"This reorganization of our genomics assets will improve the access students and researchers have to these tools and enable them to address interesting new questions," Lange said. "This will enhance the ability of the Duke research and learning community to make the greatest contributions to the understanding and application of genome sciences and policy."