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IGSP reviews organization, future plans

The Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy will undergo an extensive, two-phase assessment, institute officials announced yesterday in a memo to IGSP faculty and students.

The evaluation, initiated by IGSP Director Huntington Willard, will be conducted in preparation for the institute’s 10th-year review in 2012-2013 and to help guide the future of the IGSP—what Willard calls “IGSP 2.0.” According to guidelines laid out by the Office of the Provost, each of Duke’s seven institutes must be reviewed every five years.

Along with the evaluation process, three of the six IGSP centers will be phased out immediately, Willard said in an interview with The Chronicle, including the center run by Joseph Nevins in which Dr. Anil Potti, former Duke cancer researcher, was based. Willard noted in an e-mail that although the lessons learned from the recent questions surrounding Potti and his research will help to inform the review process and planning for the future, the evaluations are not directly related to the Potti affair.

In order to plan for what the IGSP will look like in the next 10 years, the evaluation will “assess whether [the institute’s] current organizational structure and intellectual balance is optimal for the future of the genome science and policy,” Willard wrote in the memo. The review will be carried out over the coming months, with the first phase commencing immediately and the second early this summer.

According to Willard’s memo, phase one of the evaluation will consist of five working committees made up of IGSP faculty, staff and—where appropriate—­students and other non-IGSP faculty. These committees will seek feedback from the IGSP community as to how the institute can improve for the future. The purpose of phase two will then be to make decisions about the future of the IGSP based on the recommendations provided by the five committees.

“Unquestionably, the world of genomics—whether viewed through the lens of science or society—is very different now than it was back in 2000 or even just a few years ago,” Willard wrote. “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, which invites—even requires—new strategies to meet new opportunities and challenges.”

The IGSP will look somewhat different with three of its centers being phased out immediately, each for “very different reasons,” Willard said. The centers eliminated will be the Centers for Applied Genomics and Technology, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology and Evolutionary Genomics.

Gregory Wray, director of the IGSP Genome Analysis and Sequencing Facility and former director of the Center for Evolutionary Genomics, maintained that the eliminations are an organizational change that will have a minimal effect on his daily responsibilities.

“It’s not as if I’m taking it personally as if my center has failed,” Wray said. “What we really mean [by phasing out] is the organizational structures. We don’t mean the activities.”

Wray, who will lead the phase-one committee for “organizational structure,” added that he thinks all six centers will eventually be phased out and that remaining centers cannot be immediately phased out due to existing and operative grants.

“Maybe it makes more sense to have a more fluid set of organizational units,” Wray said. “There’s one IGSP and its whole point is to be integrated, so it’s kind of anti-integration to have really strong independent centers anyway.”

In addition to Wray, Joseph Nevins, Barbara Levine Professor of Breast Cancer Genomics who collaborated with and mentored Potti, will also lose his title as director of the Center for Applied Genomics and Technology. Nevins could not be reached for comment.

Willard said in light of the recent controversy surrounding Potti’s science, Nevins’ “obvious short-term responsibility” is to focus on his review of “the scientific work that has come out of the Potti studies.”

“Nothing is more important both for their own credibility, but more importantly to clear the air for the public,” Willard said. “And for doctors and patients to understand what we think we can stand behind and do stand behind.”

Dr. Robert Harrington, director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute and leader of the phase-one committee for “translation and application of genomics,” said Potti is a good example of how the DCRI can help the IGSP in how it handles its data and analysis so that Duke can better protect its subjects.

Harrington noted that although he is a committee leader, he is not part of the IGSP. He also emphasized that the DCRI is largely involved in research involving human subjects, which can provide the IGSP with beneficial insight into the conduct of clinical science.

“When something that makes the leap from being a basic science discovery, there is a different set of rules that need to be adhered to,” Harrington said. “The Potti example is a good one in terms of where we can do a better job in translating the basic discovery into the patient setting.”

In addition to providing clinical insight, Harrington said the DCRI also has a lot of experience collaborating outside of Duke, which can help the IGSP produce a higher quality of research.

Willard echoed Harrington’s sentiments, noting the increased focus on clinical application.

Ten years ago, the IGSP was primarily concerned with improving genomics technology at the University, Willard said. But “those battles have been fought and won.”

“When the IGSP first started, there were not many people or researchers on campus that used genomic technologies,” Wray said. “We have succeeded, and that’s become well integrated into the University infrastructure.”

Willard noted that the IGSP will now be focusing more on biological and medical aspects of genomics.

“It’s not all about the technology,” he said. “It’s more about how one uses genomic information to address questions of life science and medicine.”


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