Rapid Change Leads to Collaboration for Genetics Professors

Published: Apr 24, 2013
The UT team collaborated with Carl Langefeld, far right, a statistical geneticist, professor and director of the Center for Public Health Genomics at Wake Forest School of Medicine, as well as one member of his research team who lives in St. Petersburg, Adrienne Williams, second from right.
The UT team collaborated with Carl Langefeld, far right, a statistical geneticist, professor and director of the Center for Public Health Genomics at Wake Forest School of Medicine, as well as one member of his research team who lives in St. Petersburg, Adrienne Williams, second from right.

Amanda Duke ’15 began at UT wanting to be a physician. However after working as Associate Professor Rebecca Bellone’s research assistant, she has come to respect and treasure the science that happens behind the scenes.

“Scientists and technicians push public knowledge and make modern medicine accessible,” said Duke, a biology major, who will work as a mentor for Bellone’s molecular genetics course in the fall. “Science is a bridge to living as a human being and understanding who you are.”

Duke was recently invited into a discussion with three biology professors and two statistical genetics researchers to provide a student perspective on innovating lab techniques. This opportunity arose after Bellone, Associate Professor Steve Kucera and Assistant Professor Padmanabhan Mahadevan were awarded a Board of Fellows grant to bring Carl Langefeld, a statistical geneticist, professor and director of the Center for Public Health Genomics at Wake Forest School of Medicine, as well as one member of his research team who lives in St. Petersburg, Adrienne Williams, to UT.

In addition to giving a guest lecture in the genetics course, Langefeld will deliver a public lecture on April 25 at 4:30 on the 9th floor of the Vaughn Center titled “The Impact of Natural Selection on Human Disease: The Trypanolytic APOL1 Kidney Disease Story.” The event is free and open to the public.

The biggest benefit to having Langefeld and Williams on campus though, is the collaboration with UT professors in creating innovative lab experiments and curriculum for genetics, molecular genetics and genomic courses.

“The sequencing of the human genome in 2001 has aided in the investigation of both simple and complex genetic traits in humans. With the DNA sequence knowledge, technology is rapidly advancing and the ability to investigate traits of medical significance has greatly increased,” said Bellone.

“As many of our students have an interest in the medical profession, this provides an exciting and unique avenue to not only teach them about foundations in medical genetic research but also to teach them about the innovative approaches that are currently being utilized and are at the forefront of science,” she said.

For Langefeld, sharing information is essential for the field.

“This is a transformational time in genomics, the dawn of personalized medicine, and the way to make progress is through collaboration,” he said. “Institutions like UT build on their own strengths by bringing in others to complement their skills. They’re preparing for the next generation of questions.”

Kucera said he is inspired by this outreach, as science education is at the core of his passion.

“When some students come to college, it’s as if they’ve lost a bit of their curiosity and the love of education for the sake of learning,” Kucera said. “I see that and want to reawaken that interest in them, and this collaboration is a key component in doing that.”

With progressive growth in the field of genomics and bioinformatics (the combination of biology and computer science), Mahadevan said career opportunities are bountiful. But many students don’t know these fields exist.

“I want our students to get good jobs,” Mahadevan said. “There is more to a biology career than pipetting liquids and running gels as a technician, which is OK if they want to be technicians. But there are many other careers out there.”

For all involved, the opportunity to make a difference and do work that matters is what drives them.

“Adrienne and I are very fortunate in that we’re making discoveries, and we’re the first people in the world to see them,” said Langefeld, whose research funding comes from the National Institutes of Health. “It’s exciting. It’s impactful.”

 

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