Undergrads aim to shape the future of health and medicine

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GCB News

Undergrads aim to shape the future of health and medicine

The Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine has teamed up with the Center for Genomic and Computational Biology (GCB) on the inaugural, year-long Bass Connections project team, Enabling Precision Health and Medicine.

group photo of the Family Health History Bass Connections teamThirteen undergraduate students, led by CAGPM Director Geoff Ginsburg, GCB Director Greg Wray, GCB Assistant Director Greg Crawford, and Associate Professor Susanne Haga, will investigate two issues facing precision health and medicine: family health history and infectious disease.

The Family Health History team will focus on expanding the utility and usefulness of the MeTree™ application. MeTree™ is a patient-facing web-based family health history-driven risk assessment application. It is integrated into clinical practice and provides clinical decision support to patients and primary care physicians about risk levels and recommendations for managing risk for 30 conditions.

“I was drawn to this team in particular for its intellectual diversity,” undergraduate student Chris Zhou said. “We have students spanning a wide range of programs and a mentor network consisting of teaching faculty, practicing physicians, and genetic counselors.”

The team will explore patients’ and primary care physicians’ perceptions about family health history and risk management, shared decision-making, and engagement in health care for various populations. They will also explore privacy issues and patient behaviors around sharing health history information in hopes of improving family health history collection.

group photo of the Burkholderia team in Bass ConnectionsThe Infectious Disease team will work on identifying genetic markers that can distinguish pathogenic from benign bacteria in Burkholderia and develop a rapid and robust diagnostic assay around these markers. Burkholderia is a pathogen usually causing infection to immunocompromised or hospitalized patients. It is also associated with infections in patients with underlying lung diseases like cystic fibrosis. The long-term goal of this research is to provide assay results to physicians in the Duke Health System so they can tailor antimicrobial therapy for critically ill transplant patients.

“I’m looking forward to developing a diagnostic tool that can transform the lives of patients with cystic fibrosis who are considering lung transplant surgery,” undergraduate student Noelle Garbaccio said. “It’s exciting to know that we may be able to develop a practical product for clinical application.”

Students will develop and optimize a PCR protocol to genotype strains from patients. They will also engage in bioinformatics analyses of sequence data from Burkholderia strains.

“What really made me interested in this Bass Connections team,” said undergraduate student Henry Taylor, “is the ability to work as a team on a serious and relevant medical issue.”


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