The University of Michigan School of Public Health has received federal funding to launch an integrated, interdisciplinary fellowship program that will provide training in the ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) of genomic science.
Led by Dr. Scott Roberts, professor of health behavior and health education at Michigan Public Health, the ELSI Research Training Program is funded by a T32 training grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Human Genome Research Institute and will launch in fall 2018.
“The fields of genetics and genomics have exploded in recent years, which brings great opportunities, including advances in precision health,” Dr. Roberts said. “But these important advances also pose ethical, legal and social questions and dilemmas. For example, we don’t fully understand the benefits and harms of emerging technologies, such as CRISPR, or of the use of whole genome sequencing across medical, research, and direct-to-consumer settings. How do we best regulate and manage these applications?”
The ELSI Research Training Program will provide individually tailored training for predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows, including advanced coursework, research mentoring, and professional development led by an interdisciplinary team of University of Michigan faculty mentors with expertise and resources in public health, medicine, public policy, and social and behavioral disciplines. In addition, fellows will have the opportunity to learn about research and practice in public health genetics, genetic counseling, human genetics, genomic medicine, health law, science & technology studies, and bioethics.
Faculty from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, Michigan Medicine, the Ford School of Public Policy, and the Law School were involved in the development of the program and will serve as faculty mentors for the fellows.
“This is not just a public health issue—it truly requires a multidisciplinary approach to evaluate and address the ethical, social, and legal implications of genomics,” Dr. Roberts said. “I think this program really demonstrates the strength of our interdisciplinary work and collaborations at the University of Michigan. Across the university, people are very interested in genomics and ELSI issues from different angles, and we’re able to bring those people together in a way that will impact future leaders in this field.”
The program will accept one predoctoral fellow and one postdoctoral fellow each year, and each fellow will be supported for two years. The fellows will receive individually tailored, mentored ELSI research training based on their background, interests, and goals, in addition to a core set of knowledge and skills-based learning experiences.
This is the third program of its kind, Dr. Roberts said, with similar training programs at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania. The program is receiving additional financial support from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, Rackham Graduate School and the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine.