Director’s Message March 2011

A Whole New World.

When Duke proposed establishing a new campus-wide Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, it was conceived as a highly interactive group of interdisciplinary centers involving faculty and students from across the campus. This model has served both the IGSP and Duke well for the past eight years, producing a series of thematic but flexibly run centers to coordinate development and implementation of IGSP missions in research, education and service. Over time, individual centers have adopted different “personalities,” and the roster of IGSP centers has adapted to changes in the genome landscape, both at Duke and beyond. Natural clusters of faculty and students have sprung up around specific areas of investigation – sometimes within centers, sometimes between centers and sometimes under the broad IGSP umbrella itself.

Systems biology, featured in this special issue of GenomeLIFE, is a perfect example of this theme-based and program-driven interdisciplinary emphasis. Driven by an outpouring of genomic data and the need to fit the pieces together, an emphasis on networks in biology and medicine grew out of groundbreaking work by Joe Nevins, Mike West and their colleagues in Medicine and Arts & Sciences over six years ago. As the field of systems biology emerged nationally, a broad effort took root out of natural collaborations between experimentalists and modeling experts from biology to engineering, medicine to statistics. Those efforts, fueled in particular by Philip Benfey, coalesced under the IGSP Center for Systems Biology, a structure that has enabled critical interactions and connections between people, sparking new ideas and research directions and fostering the interdisciplinarity at the core of University Institutes at Duke. As you will see, systems biologists of all stripes are now exploring the intricate biological networks that govern living cells in all kinds of organisms and on all kinds of time scales. It is this kind of success that I imagine Duke’s leaders had in mind when the IGSP was conceived ten years ago.

But the world of genomics – whether viewed through the lens of science or society – is unquestionably very different now than it was back in 2000, or even just a few years ago when the Center for Systems Biology and other centers launched. While the demands of anticipating and adapting to a landscape of ever-changing science have shifted, the consequences for and the engagement of society have only deepened. This invites consideration of new strategies to meet these new opportunities and challenges. Thus, as successful as the circa 2000 model has been, it is time to consider ways in which the organizational structure of the IGSP might adapt to better serve our diverse IGSP missions and to encourage leadership and entrepreneurship in selected domains of science and/or policy.

“The world of genomics – whether viewed through the lens of science or society – is unquestionably very different now than it was back in 2000, or even just a few years ago.”

As we approach our tenth-year anniversary and to assess whether our current organizational structure and intellectual balance is optimal for the future, we have initiated a two-phase evaluation and planning process. Phase I, now underway, involves a review of critical aspects of the IGSP’s mission and structure from an organizational point of view, in light of the rapidly evolving landscape of scientific and social opportunities and challenges that mark our field. Phase II will focus strategically on programmatic initiatives and opportunities, partnerships, and priorities that will guide the shape of IGSP in 2012 and beyond – what one might call “IGSP 2.0”.

In Phase I of this process, a series of working committees are addressing key issues for our future, including our organizational structure, the analytical and service infrastructure, translation and application of genomics, education and training across the campus, and IGSP-led administrative services and functions. Each of the five working committees is charged with performing an in-depth evaluation of the area in question, considering various models for addressing the questions raised, and making recommendations to me and to an overarching “IGSP 2.0” Planning Committee that will guide this process over the course of the year. We welcome and actively encourage input from everyone in the IGSP family, as well as from our colleagues across the Duke campus. Information on these working committees and their progress can be found on the IGSP web site.

Building on the results of Phase I, the purpose of Phase II will be to make decisions about the recommendations from the working committees and to use that as a base for considering themes, both new and old, to guide the development of “IGSP 2.0” in a way that exemplifies our interdisciplinary and cross-campus reach, spanning both genome sciences and policy.

By articulating our new organizational principles – perhaps quite different from the ones we began with nine years ago – and ensuring that the plan has support and energy throughout the Institute, we will be in the strongest possible position to continue to achieve distinction and leadership in this field.

Huntington F. Willard, Director


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