Enabling Precision Health and Medicine (2017-2018)


The landmark sequencing of the human genome in 2003 heralded a new era in biomedical research. A key result has been the development of genomics-based tools to diagnose diseases, predict disease onset or recurrence, tailor treatment options and assess treatment response. However, translating these discoveries into actionable diagnostics and therapies remains a substantial challenge; a complex array of scientific, regulatory, ethical and financial hurdles exist between the laboratory bench and the integration of a safe and effective application into clinical practice.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project team will work toward developing a diagnostic test from genomics and other technologies to meet the real-world needs of patients in the Duke Health System.

Using a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach, the project will bring together undergraduate students with interests in the biological and physical sciences, computational biology and informatics, medicine, engineering, policy, economics, ethics and sociology to research and design a clinical test aimed at meeting a diagnostic need, with the goal of translating a laboratory discovery into medical practice. Faculty team leads, graduate students and postdocs will serve as mentors and leaders.

Early in the fall semester, the team will meet with Duke clinician-scientists who will describe a clinical problem and outline a set of deliverables that are realistic and tailored to a semester-long time frame. Working together, team members will develop a strategy aimed at producing these deliverables. Each team member will then take responsibility for particular components of the overall plan. Faculty team leads, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will serve as mentors and leaders. View examples of possible projects.

As the semester progresses, sessions will be devoted to working on the deliverables, and subteams will work on the different components of the plan. The coleaders and graduate students will work closely with the team to provide advice, point to useful resources and help troubleshoot.

The team will be able to work with core genomics facilities to generate test data from patient samples and assist with bioinformatics analyses as needed. About two-thirds of the way through the semester, the team will meet with the clinician-scientists to provide a progress report and receive feedback. During the final weeks, the team will compile a formal report containing their results and recommendations.

Anticipated Outcomes

Specific deliverables to be determined; selected team recommendations incorporated into participating clinician-scientists’ research and patient care

Student Opportunities

Team members will become well-versed in team science and the specific challenges and strategies to enable precision health and medicine from scientific, clinical and policy perspectives.

Students will be immersed in a team-based, experiential learning environment charged with developing specific deliverables for real-world problems. This project will provide students with rich learning experiences and the opportunity to learn about multiple areas of precision health and medicine essential to the development and translation of new clinical tools. Interacting with clinicians and scientists in the field will give students direct insight into real-world challenges in taking a new application to the clinic to impact patient care.

Students will conduct literature reviews, contribute to data collection and analysis, develop a comprehensive understanding of policies relevant to the application, identify areas of disparities and preemptively develop solutions based on prior work in a given region or health system. Student work will potentially contribute to coauthored publications and continued research with one of the team members.


Fall 2017 – Spring 2018


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Gregory Crawford, School of Medicine - Pediatrics; Center for Genomic and Computational Biology
Geoffrey Ginsburg, School of Medicine; Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine*
Susanne Haga, School of Medicine; Sanford School; Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine; Center for Genomic and Compuational Biology*
Gregory Wray, Trinity - Biology; Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology*

* denotes team leader