Every individual has a unique genetic makeup that directly impacts his or her risk for disease and response to therapies. In recent years, dramatic advances in technology and genetic science—such as the sequencing of the human genome—have led to major leaps forward in our knowledge and practice of clinical medicine and public health.

Already home to landmark research in human genetics, the University of Iowa is poised to play a leadership role in converting new genetic knowledge to clinical applications. UI researchers and clinicians will create more effective and personalized treatments for cancer, aging, obesity, cardiovascular disease, pre-term birth, and other major public health challenges, contributing to healthier lives and better quality of life for Iowans and populations around the world.

As this new, personalized medicine becomes more fully realized, society will face many new challenges. The proliferation of personal genetic data has the potential to create conflicts related to insurance coverage, personal risk assessment and choice, forensic testing and database access, and perspectives on race and ancestry. UI students, with knowledge of genetics, ultimately will need to understand how law, communications, risk assessment, and public policy may impact the prevention and treatment of common disease.

Genetics generates both needs and services, not only in the basic sciences and health care, but also in bioethics, law, bioinformatics, and communications. Under the UI Genetics Initiative, 10 new faculty members will team with current UI faculty in the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and the UI Colleges of Engineering, Law, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Nursing, and Public Health. The new faculty will build on UI’s distinguished record of clinical care and research in genetics, and also help the university keep pace with rapid changes in technologies, computational approaches to genetics, and the ethical, legal, and social issues created by the role of genetics in insurance, forensics, patenting, and behavior.

The initiative—-led by Jeffrey Murray, M.D., professor of pediatrics, biological sciences, dentistry, and epidemiology; and Richard Smith, M.D., professor and vice chair of otolaryngology—-will have a strong component of outreach across the state, and will build on existing collaborations among the regent institutions and statewide clinical programs in genetics.