Share this:
August 20, 2018

Preparing the next generation – interns engaged in precision medicine research

By Sharon Rosen

Zachary Stephens

When Zachary Stephens started his summer internship at Mayo Clinic in 2013, he was thrust into a world where solving big data challenges can lead to more individualized care for patients. As a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he was used to developing computer models to analyze and

interpret large data sets.

But his information technology (IT) internship in the Center for Individualized Medicine  inspired him to explore a whole new world – managing massive amounts of genomics data from the latest DNA technologies to guide precision medicine research and practice.

“We’re exposing students to careers that didn’t exist 5 or 10 years ago. Our goal is to develop the next generation of physicians and scientists in genomic medicine. In turn, we’re reaping the benefits of having enthusiastic, bright students like Zachary bring their expertise to help us more rapidly translate and apply genomic data into daily clinical care.”– Caer Rohrer Vitek

“We’re exposing students to careers that didn’t exist 5 or 10 years ago. Our goal is to develop the next generation of physicians and scientists in genomic medicine. In turn, we’re reaping the benefits of having enthusiastic, bright students like Zachary bring their expertise to help us more rapidly translate and apply genomic data into daily clinical care,” says Caer Rohrer Vitek, operations manager, Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine Education Program.

Caer Rohrer Vitek

Now completing his fourth summer as an IT and bioinformatics intern through the Mayo Clinic & Illinois Alliance for Technology-Based Healthcare, Stephens has seen firsthand how computational power can help develop more accurate diagnostic tests and individualized treatments for patients.

Stephens is one of many students who come to Mayo to explore research and careers in individualized medicine through the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. In addition to IT interns, Mayo has also hosted students from Illinois and other universities through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program.

Meeting the challenge: computer models that help answer clinical questions

During his first summer at Mayo, Stephens’ computational skills made a big impact. He worked with the IT team in Center for Individualized Medicine to find a more efficient way to check the integrity of genomic data.

“When I started in 2013, DNA sequencing data was being reviewed manually to ensure data quality. Over a two-month period, we developed an interface so that genomic data could be compiled and presented in a summary format that could be reviewed much more quickly, saving time and money. This was important because researchers were able to receive results faster, yet have confidence that genetic variants identified through testing were an accurate picture of a disease or condition,” says Stephens.

Now Stephens is putting his computational skills to work to help Jean Pierre Kocher, Ph.D. , director, Center for Individualized Medicine Bioinformatics Program, and his team develop clinical genetic tests to uncover genetic mutations linked to complex diseases.

“What makes this work so exciting is that we are developing algorithms to analyze data from the latest, cutting edge technologies, known as long-read sequencers. This technology is at the forefront of precision medicine because it can help researchers find differences between very similar DNA variants that conventional methods cannot detect. This work is already helping guide diagnosis and treatment for heart disease, cancer, and rare and undiagnosed diseases.” – Zachary Stephens

“What makes this work so exciting is that we are developing algorithms to analyze data from the latest, cutting edge technologies, known as long-read sequencers. This technology is at the forefront of precision medicine because it can help researchers find differences between very similar DNA variants that conventional methods cannot detect. This work is already helping guide diagnosis and treatment for heart disease, cancer, and rare and undiagnosed diseases,” says Stephens.

With only one year until he completes his Ph.D., Stephens is considering a career that includes precision medicine. “I’m thankful to have already worked with Mayo researchers who are staying ahead of the curve in individualized care.”

Benefactors help educate the next generation

Support from these benefactors has helped many eager students explore the genomics frontier this summer:

  • Brandt Young Scholars Fund
  • Brian P. and Doris G. Monieson Fund for Mayo Clinic Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships, Center for Individualized Medicine.

"Thanks to our generous benefactors, we are able to bring talented students to Mayo and introduce and engage them in precision medicine research. Each student works with research mentors, many who are leaders in their field. It’s so exciting to see the students share their research projects at the end of the summer. Their eyes have been opened to the promise of precision medicine,” says Rohrer Vitek.

Join the conversation

For more information on the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine, visit our blogFacebookLinkedIn or Twitter at @MayoClinicCIM.

Register to attend this year’s Individualizing Medicine Conference. It will be held in Rochester, Minnesota, on Sept. 12-13, 2018.

Tags: #CIMCon18, #Dr. Jean Pierre Kocher, #information technology, #IT, #Mayo Clinic & Illinois Alliance for Technology-based Healthcare, #Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, #medical education, #summer undergraduate research fellowship, #University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (Illinois), #Zachary Stephens, Bioinformatics, Caer Rohrer Vitek, center for individualized medicine, education, individualized medicine, mayo clinic, medical research, Precision Medicine

Please login or register to post a reply.
Contact Us · Privacy Policy