Welcome to Season 2
Precision Medicine is Here: Dr. Barbara Fortini Helps Prepare a New Generation of Scientists to Apply It
In this episode, we talk extensively with Barbara Fortini, PhD, the Program Director for the Master of Science in Human Genetics and Genomic Data Analytics program at the Keck Graduate Institute about what students of biology and genetics need to know today versus what they needed to know a decade ago, and how she sees those skills being applied in a clinical setting.
Dr. Fortini began teaching genetics and genomics as an assistant professor at Claremont Colleges shortly after receiving her postdoc, and she quickly realized that the syllabus they were using hadn’t changed in decades. She knew the importance of getting students up to speed with rapid changes in the field—specifically the mapping of the human genome and the impact that has on the creation and use of precision medicines—and she began changing the program to ensure it happened.
At the time, genetic counseling was a popular area of study due to the growth of genetic counseling, but there were simply not enough training opportunities for everyone who was interested. As a solution, Dr. Fortini and her team created a new degree option that didn't require taking a genetic counseling board license at the end. The goal was to allow students to gain the same genetic counseling knowledge so they could work in laboratories and for pharmaceutical companies that needed those skills but did not require a degree.
In addition to the shortage of genetic counselors, we asked Dr. Fortini about the other challenges hospitals and healthcare system need to overcome as they build precision medicine programs. Her said that it is no longer OK for the scientific community to wait years before applying what they’ve learned in a clinical setting. Once there is enough data to make strategic applications, she thinks it’s important to scale up and implement, because cancer patients shouldn’t have to wait ten years while “we work on getting it right.”
Dr. Fortini points to Project Baby Bear as an example of how precision can be put into clinical practice even as the research continues. Rady Children's Hospital created Project Baby Bear to get immediate help for infants who are acutely sick within their first week of life. Babies in the program are treated in the NEO and NICU as they normally would be while also undergoing rapid whole genome sequencing, which can lead to a different clinical management solution. Dr. Fortini says that there are children alive today that would not have survived without this dramatic approach to implementing precision medicine in a clinical setting.
Dr. Fortini says that, going forward, the greatest challenges for those training in the field of genetics will be managing clinical trials and developing new interventions. In short, she believes we need to take all the genetic knowledge we now have to make smarter, better drugs. The key, Dr. Fortini believes, is ensuring that students and practicing doctors can get up to speed with genomic data and analytics. You can hear her thoughts on how she thinks that can be done by listening to the entire conversation.
Tune in to the full episode above.
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About Our Guest
Barbara Fortini, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Genetics/Program Director, Master of Science in Human Genetics and Genomic Data Analytics (MSGDA), Keck Graduate Institute
Dr. Fortini completed her Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology where her thesis focused on the biochemistry and genetics of genome stability. Fortini undertook her postdoctoral training at the University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine in the department of Preventive Medicine using post-GWAS functional genomics to understand colorectal cancer risk.
Fortini currently teaches courses in Human Molecular Genetics, Human Genomics with NGS Lab, and Functional Genomics for both Genomic Data Analytics and graduate students studying genetic counseling. She concurrently conducts research on genomic variants associated with colorectal cancer risk.
On Twitter at @KeckGrad
On LinkedIn: Barbara Kraatz Fortini