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Duke Receives $20 million in Federal Research Grants

Separate awards will advance genomic medicine and breast cancer research

Published October 26, 2018 | Updated October 26, 2018

headshot of Shelley Hwang
head shot of Lori Orlando
headshot of Shelley Hwang
head shot of Lori Orlando

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DURHAM, N.C. – In separate awards from the National Institutes of Health, Duke University School of Medicine researchers will advance genomic medicine initiatives and develop a model for how breast cancer tumors begin and grow.

The genome studies include two grants from the National Human Genome Research Institute, which is part of NIH, that will total about $9 million over five years. 

One grant establishes the Duke Center for Applied Genomics & Precision Medicine, in partnership with the Duke Clinical Research Institute, as the coordinating center for a national initiative to move genomic medicine into broader clinical practice. Genomic medicine is a discipline that uses DNA and other molecular information to guide treatment and care.

“Genomic medicine has great potential to improve health, but its widespread implementation has been hampered by the lack of evidence of its clinical utility,” said principal investigator Geoffrey Ginsburg, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Duke Center for Applied Genomics & Precision Medicine. “These new pragmatic genomic medicine clinical trials will provide that evidence.”

“As the coordinating center for this national network, we will create the genomic medicine knowledge base where ideas can be shared so that everyone can begin to use this in practice, whether in community clinics or academic medical centers,” Ginsburg said. 

An additional grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute will fund one of the genomic network’s projects. The grant supports an initiative at Duke to gather the family medical histories of low-income patients to assess inherited risks for cancer, cardiovascular diseases and liver diseases. Lori Orlando, M.D., is the principal investigator of that project.

“Family health history is the most important and most readily available predictor of disease risk we have. Yet, it is broadly underutilized in clinical practice. Our study is building a platform that will help providers follow evidence -based guidelines for risk management,” Orlando said. “We believe this platform will help individuals who live in areas that don’t have easy access to genetic counseling or genetic testing.”

In a separate announcement, the National Cancer Institute awarded $10.8 million to Duke Cancer Institute researchers as part of the Human Tumor Atlas Network, which will work to build a visual model of cancer tumors.

The Duke team, led by Shelley Hwang, M.D., and Jeffrey R. Marks, Ph.D., will develop a three-dimensional molecular characterization of pre-cancerous growths in the breast to better understand how breast cancers develop. Co-principal investigators are from Stanford and Arizona State universities. 

“We are excited about the opportunity to build on all the preliminary work that we have been doing to better understand ductal carcinoma in situ and other precancers,” Hwang said.

The Human Tumor Atlas Network is a national effort to construct high-resolution, multidimensional atlases of cancer tumors over time, describing the molecular, cellular and physiological events that occur during early stages of cancer development, progression and metastasis. 

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