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In their words: Scholarly Concentration Q&A with Genetics in Medicine co-directors


In 2019, IU School of Medicine launched Scholarly Concentrations. To help students decide if a concentration topic is the right fit, concentration co-directors shared the inside scoop—from why they got involved in the concentration to how a specific topic can help students reach their goals.

Topic: Genetics in Medicine
Location: Indianapolis
Co-Directors: Dan Brady, PhD, and Theodore Wilson, MD 

Introduce yourself. Who are you and why did you decide to become involved in this Scholarly Concentration topic?

Dan Brady, PhD: I’m a scientist with a PhD in anatomy and research experience in non-profit, government, academic settings. I also have 17 years of experience in regulatory affairs at Eli Lilly. I decided 21 years ago to leave bench research and explore how I could help the evolution of teaching science shift from a static teacher-learner relationship to a dynamic partnership that incorporated advances in technology with the explosion in scientific knowledge.

Tell us about your experience related to the concentration topic.

Brady: I successfully passed my undergraduate genetics course 41 years ago. However, during the past 15 years, I have been supporting drug development programs in oncology that rely heavily on understanding and targeting tumors based on their phenotypic expression. Some of the companies I work with use cell and gene therapy as treatments for hematologic cancers or infants born without an intact immune system. It turns out, compared to 41 years ago, that genetics is foundational across many disciplines. Cell and gene therapies look like an inflection point in a new approach to lasting treatments.

What are you most excited about in regards to Scholarly Concentrations and your concentration topic?

Brady: Scholarly Concentrations improve a student’s perspective toward approaching patients, dealing with clinical data, and treating a patient. I see the Genetics Scholarly Concentration as providing a foundation for lifelong medical learning.

What are the two or three most important or interesting things students should know about this concentration?

  1. Genetics in medicine presents an integrative learning process, and the knowledge base is growing rapidly. Students will learn how to synthesize important information and deal with ambiguity, which isn’t mutually exclusive!
  2. We’ve designed a course to help students learn and appreciate the complexity of communicating genetic testing results, particularly to families and patients.
  3. We believe we have established a challenging but fulfilling exposure to the key elements of a laboratory, clinical genetics and clinical trial expectations with this Scholarly Concentration. Prove us wrong!

How is this concentration beneficial to a student’s personal and professional goals?

  1. Genetics touches all disciplines of medicine. This Scholarly Concentration will allow exploration into a variety of medical disciplines to assist exploration of future residency programs, pediatrics, neurology, and clinical genetics.
  2. The communications course will help students better understand and handle difficult conversations concerning test results and potential treatment plans.

Some students may have a hard time deciding which concentration to choose. How can a student decide if this topic is the best fit for them?

Clinical geneticists consult with a variety of medical disciplines. So, this concentration will benefit any student willing to explore any aspect of the genetics practice continuum (e.g., lab results, clinical discussions, designing a clinical trial) in one or more medical specialties. Scientific innovation is driven by challenges not repeating the same treatment paradigms.

What are the special resources and/or expertise on this concentration’s home campus?

On the IUPUI campus, we have fully functional laboratories in cytogenetics, molecular and biochemical genetics, pharmacogenomics and a cell and gene therapy manufacturing facility. The clinical geneticists in residence provide consulting and on-call service across the IU medical campuses in Indianapolis and have a synergistic relationship with all departments.

What is the academic and social culture like on the home campus?

The academic culture at IUPUI is stimulating no matter your profession. The other schools on the campus afford several other scientifically interesting seminars as a diversion to purely medically-focused talks.

What is the social culture like on the campus? Well, I’m compelled to have fun while learning! Also, informal, social activities among department colleagues do occur, and I plan to increase their regularity.

You provided some examples of potential projects for this concentration. Can you also provide some more details and examples of what one or two different projects could look like?

Not at this time. The reason? What a faculty member might propose as a project should be dependent on the student’s interest as that is the strongest motivator to learning. Our goal is to work with the students in this concentration to help them understand what they might like to explore, fully prepared that their exploration may dead-end or take a different turn.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

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