U of T precision medicine program offers training in cross-disciplinary science

Angela Duong

Angela Duong is a PhD student in the lab of Ana Andreazza, a professor in the department of pharmacology and toxicology in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine (photo by Steve Southon)

A new graduate education program at the University of Toronto will provide PhD students with advanced education in interdisciplinary biomedical research.

The Collaborative Specialization in Next-Generation Precision Medicine opened for enrolment this week and will offer courses this fall at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy,  the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Arts & Science and the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering.

The program’s courses and modules are linked to PRiME, a cross-disciplinary research effort launched by the university in 2019 as an institutional strategic initiative, with a focus on precision medicine that spans physical and life sciences, as well as engineering.

“Over the last couple of years, the value of PRiME’s research activities has become apparent and new collaborations are blossoming,” said Robert Batey, professor and chair of the department of chemistry in the Faculty of Arts & Science and a researcher with PRiME. “It’s only natural that PRiME would turn its attention to education and introducing cross-disciplinary research as early as possible in a graduate student’s career.”

The new program is run through PRiME and is the first collaborative specialization based on an institutional strategic initiative at the university. There are more than 40 such specializations at U of T that provide a multidisciplinary experience while allowing students to complete a related degree.

PRiME is led by University Professor Shana Kelley at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and brings together 75 investigators and their trainees to advance research in disease biology, diagnostics and drug discovery. The new collaborative specialization draws 16 core faculty members from that group including Christine Allen, a professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy who is U of T’s associate vice-president and vice-provost of strategic initiatives.

Allen said the specialization is a sign that PRiME is succeeding as a research initiative.

“We always expected that once we created the research networks the educational offerings would follow. We brought people together through supporting the research and now they want to teach together,” said Allen. “It’s an indication that PRiME is succeeding and growing, and people want to be part of it.”

Research and education in next-generation, precision medicine requires expertise in diverse areas including biologics, omics, molecular chemistry, liquid biopsy, nanomedicine and biology-on-a-chip. Work in the field is by necessity collaborative and interdisciplinary.

Geordi Frere is a second-year PhD student in chemistry at U of T Mississauga who is co-supervised by Professors Scott Prosser and Patrick Gunning. He said that interdisciplinary courses are appealing, especially for the access they offer to a large network of researchers with various expertise.

“It’s a really great chance to expand the avenues of research that you can explore,” Frere said. “There’s an amazing wealth of expertise in different faculties at U of T that PRiME helps you tap into. “The collaborative specialization will help students familiarize themselves with these resources and learn how to access them efficiently.”