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Vanderbilt to Offer MOOC on Personalized Medicine

January 12, 2016
by David Raths
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Case studies will illustrate principles of how genetics are being brought to bear on personalizing treatment
Dan Roden, M.D. /Photo Credit: Susan Urmy/Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), a pioneer in pharmacogenomics, is offering a free massive open online course (MOOC) on personalized medicine. The six-week course starts Jan. 15.

The course instructor is Dan Roden, M.D., assistant vice chancellor for Personalized Medicine, professor of Medicine, Pharmacology and Biomedical Informatics, and William Stokes Professor of Experimental Therapeutics. In a release from Vanderbilt, he explained his interest in offering the MOOC this way: “The reason that I’m teaching this course is that I think we’ve seen an explosion in our understanding of the concepts of personalized medicine over the last decade.”

The study of the genetic underpinnings of variable drug response began in the middle of the last century. In 2005 the Food and Drug Administration approved the first pharmacogenetic test for drug response. Increased availability of large biological data sets and of everyday data from the hospital, clinic and beyond promises to advance not only therapeutics, but also diagnostics and disease prevention, leading to a more discriminating and precise medicine.

VUMC created a program called PREDICT (Pharmacogenomic Resource for Enhanced Decisions in Care & Treatment), which uses prospective genetic testing to guide drug selection and dosing and lower patients’ risk of adverse drug reactions. The program won a Healthcare Informatics Innovator Award in 2014.

In July 2015, Roden and colleagues at Vanderbilt received a five-year, $12.8-million grant from the federal government to develop better ways to predict how patients will respond to the drugs they’re given.

“Here at Vanderbilt, we made an institutional commitment to the concept of personalized medicine largely around the genetics of variable drug response, although that vision is now expanding into disease susceptibility as well. We made that commitment about 10 years ago,” Roden said. This commitment grew from VUMC’s expertise in clinical pharmacology and biomedical informatics.

The MOOC course will present short primers in genetics and mechanisms underlying variability in drug responses. A series of case studies will be used to illustrate principles of how genetics are being brought to bear on refining diagnoses and on personalizing treatment in rare and common diseases. The ethical and operational issues around how to implement large-scale genomic sequencing in clinical practice will be addressed.

After completing this course, learners should understand:

1. The ways in which genetic variants can contribute to human disease susceptibility;

2. How to choose among drug therapies based on genetic factors;

3. That the functional consequences of the vast majority of genetic variants discovered by modern sequencing are unknown.

Anyone in the world with an Internet connection can take the course for free. The target audience for Roden’s course is physicians who’ve been out of training for five or more years. But everyone is welcome — other health care professionals, students and interested members of the general public.

Course registration information is available at