By Bob Shepard
A diverse society needs diversity in all aspects, including researchers and clinicians in genomics, a field in which minority students, especially African-Americans, are historically underrepresented. In an effort to increase the diversity of biomedical scientists engaged in genetic and genomic research, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology have launched a summer program tailored to undergraduate students at historically black colleges and universities in Alabama.
The program, called SURE-GM, is funded by a grant of more than $1.2 million over five years from the National Human Genome Research Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health. UAB and HudsonAlpha will recruit 12 students each year from Alabama HBCUs to participate in the two-year summer program. Students will spend the first summer at HudsonAlpha in Huntsville engaged in training for foundational research skills and the second summer at UAB conducting mentored research.
“The promise of genomic medicine to benefit all people in Alabama, America and the world is immense,” said Bruce Korf, M.D., Ph.D., chief genomic officer at UAB and co-principal investigator for SURE-GM. “If all of our citizens are to realize the promise of precision medicine, we will need a workforce that reflects the diversity of our country. This program is designed to address major disparities in training in genomic medicine, which in turn will help to address disparities in access to cutting-edge medical care.”
SURE-GM will recruit rising juniors from HBCUs to open a window to potential careers in genomics, one of the newest and fastest-growing fields in health care.
“This program will provide a means for qualified students at HBCUs to learn more about both the principles and recent advances in genetics and genomics,” said Greg Barsh, M.D., Ph.D., faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha and co-principal investigator for SURE-GM. “We think SURE-GM will lead to greater participation of underrepresented students in the biomedical workforce, greater diversity of scientists and physician-scientists engaged in biomedical research, and greater appreciation of the roles and potential of genomic medicine in science and society.”
During their first summer, program enrollees at HudsonAlpha will experience a mix of educational components designed to prepare participants for a mentored research experience. In addition to the hands-on practical laboratory work, the scholars will be given instruction in professional development and the responsible conduct of research. They will expand their connection to the scientific community by attending research group meetings, a scientific literature journal club and faculty-led seminars.
In their second summer, students will be engaged in research projects at UAB, under the mentorship of UAB faculty from a variety of disciplines across the university, further increasing their exposure to the breadth of science opportunities available as careers. The program will provide robust evaluation and feedback to the students throughout the two-year process, with additional learning opportunities available in between the summer sessions.
Recruitment efforts are now underway. Participants will be selected over the winter, and the first class will begin in the summer of 2019.
Additional investigators working on SURE-GM are Neil Lamb, Ph.D., faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha, and Dan Bullard, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Department of Genetics.