The Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy has awarded four interdisciplinary and collaborative research grants for innovative research exploring issues ranging from the biological basis for human empathy (and the lack thereof) to the instinctive urge to drink water when we're thirsty. To be eligible for funding, all proposals had to address the implications of the research for society and/or individuals and to engage faculty involved in the study of genome ethics or policy at the level of individuals and/or society.
"We were looking for those research efforts that would best foster interdisciplinary and collaborative research projects on campus and that were considered most likely to make long-term, significant and original contributions to science and society," said IGSP Director Huntington Willard.
The four funded research teams and projects are as follows:
-A group led by Neurobiologist Pate Skene with colleagues representing the Department of Philosophy, the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the School of Medicine's Center for Human Genome Variation will explore the genomics of human empathy by sequencing the DNA of psychopaths who seem to lack that fundamental human trait altogether. The team will evaluate the implications of their findings for understanding human evolution and the role of empathy for the stability of changing human populations and societies.
-A group led by Wolfgang Liedtke in the Departments of Medicine and Neurobiology together with colleagues representing Computational Biology and Philosophy will explore the role of addiction and reward-related genes in the brain for the instinctive cravings and gratification associated with the thirst for water. The new study follows on earlier work by Liedtke's group suggesting that addictive drugs may have hijacked the same nerve cells and connections in the brain that serve the appetite for salt.
-A group including representatives from Psychiatry, Biology, the Duke Lemur Center, Philosophy and Anesthesiology including Peter Klopfer and Andrew Krystal will explore the possibility of inducing hibernation in humans by studying the pathways that make it possible in dwarf lemurs, the only known hibernating primates. The team will also consider the profound philosophical challenges that would surely arise if technology should one day give humans the option to reversibly enter such a state of "suspended animation."
-The IGSP's Laura Beskow and colleagues including the Duke School of Nursing's Sharron Docherty and Sociologist Michele Easter will examine the process of professional decision-making involved in the disclosure of whole-genome sequencing results to patients and their families. Through in-depth interviews with professionals ranging from genetic counselors to physicians to institutional review board (IRB) leaders now engaged in weighing such disclosure decisions, they hope to address the increasing gap between the promising application of whole-genome sequencing in the clinic and the ethical and regulatory guidance surrounding its use.
Aimed to advance the institute's mission across the Duke campus, the grant program is one in a series of new ventures to come out of an IGSP 2.0 evaluation and planning process launched by Willard early last year. Other notable initiatives include the IGSP's new open membership policy and a new 'Omics Analysis Core Resource.