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Duke Genome Institute to be Broken Apart

By Bio-IT World Staff 

November 27, 2013 | Rumors that the formal structure of the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy at Duke University will shortly be dismantled, which have been circulating since a sharply critical piece on the watchdog blog Duke Check first reported the news, have now been confirmed. An internal document from the Institute obtained by Bio-IT World lays out the broad framework of the changes, which include dissolving the institute into a more informal network spread across various departments at Duke. Three new "academic units" - in the areas of "science and society," "translational and genomic medicine," and "computational biology and genomics" - will serve to retain some of the unity of purpose provided by the Genome Institute, although the organizational nature of these units has not been defined.

The Genome Institute is a major pillar of academic genomics research in the United States. Its interdisciplinary outlook and tightly-knit community of experts has made it a hub of not only scientific research in genomics, but also the social and political implications of this rapidly evolving technology. Luminaries currently at the Institute include Huntington Willard, the Institute's director, who discovered the XIST gene responsible for X chromosome inactivation; Misha Angrist, a noted author and advocate of free access to one's personal genetic information; David Goldstein, Bob Cook-Deegan, and many others. These members will be able to continue their work at Duke University, under the banners of their respective departments, although collaborations among them may no longer have a dedicated home. Certain administrative positions, on the other hand, stand to be eliminated upon the Institute's breakup, and the fate of individual programs and resources housed at the Institute is unknown.

In its present form, the Duke Genome Institute is also a regular magnet for high-profile grants, amounting to some $250 million over its eleven-year lifespan. Existing grants, too, will be shifted to separate academic departments. 

Sources at Duke University have so far signaled cautious acceptance of the changes, which in the near term do not appear likely to cut short ongoing research projects. New educational initiatives, like a forthcoming master's program in bioethics and science policy, also seem set to continue apace, albeit under different formal umbrellas. 

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