Syndicate content

ASHG and NHGRI Award Genetics and Public Policy Fellowship Fellowship

The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health, have named Katherine D. Blizinsky (image, courtesy of Dr. Blizinsky), Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Northwestern University in Chicago, the newest ASHG/NHGRI Genetics and Public Policy Fellow. The 16-month appointment began on September 2, 2014. The Genetics and Public Policy Fellowship is intended to help early-career genetics professionals develop and implement genetics-related health and research policy at a national level. Fellows in the program gain policy experience in diverse settings by completing rotations in the non-profit science advocacy sector at ASHG, in the executive branch at NHGRI, and in the legislative branch as staff members on Capitol Hill. ASHG and NHGRI have jointly sponsored the fellowship since 2002. Dr. Blizinsky has served in various genetics research roles since 2008, studying varying topics in the areas of psychiatric neurogenetics and genomics, gene-environment coevolution of psychiatric susceptibility, and imaging genetics of neurological and psychiatric conditions. She received the Sage Bionetworks Young Investigator Award in 2012 and co-founded the Science Policy Initiative Northwestern, an organization that fosters science policy dialogue in the university community through panel discussions, lectures, and interactive debates. “With her diversity of experience inside and outside the genetics laboratory, Dr. Blizinsky will bring her practical knowledge of genetics research to settings where the potential impact of that research can be more fully realized and disseminated,” said Joseph McInerney, MA, MS, executive vice president of ASHG. “Our fellows have gone on to work at a wide variety of influential organizations,” said Derek Scholes, Ph.D., chief of the NHGRI’s Policy and Program Analysis Branch. “We’re confident that this fellowship will provide a good foundation for Dr. Blizinsky’s career in health policy.” Dr. Blizinsky recently earned her doctoral degree in neuroscience from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. Her research focused on the genetic basis of various psychiatric and neurological diseases such as schizophrenia, autism, and Alzheimer's disease. Her interest in genomics came from a unique and life-changing opportunity to work as a researcher on the Human Genome Project when she was a 16-year-old high school student. To fulfill an educational requirement, she was enrolled in a health class at Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington, but she wasn't feeling challenged. At her request, the school administration allowed her to work in a University of Washington laboratory to fulfill the requirement. There, researchers like Leroy Hood, M.D., Ph.D., who invented the automated DNA sequencer together with collaborators such as Michael Hunkapiller, Ph.D., mentored her and allowed her to actively participate in ground-breaking research. "They didn't treat me like a 16-year-old high school student. They treated me like a budding scientist," Dr. Blizinsky said. "I bonded with genetics for life." As she matriculated through her graduate career, she developed her interest in science policy. As mentioned, she co-founded the Science Policy Initiative Northwestern (SPiN), a campus organization dedicated to education and discourse around science policy. Her involvement with the organization sparked her interest in open science and collaborative research. Dr. Blizinsky says she wants to use her career to advocate for policies that will help genomics research reach its fullest potential. "Genomics has shifted toward a need for more collaboration and data sharing," she said. "My career goal is to help this transition take place, and this fellowship will help me find the best way to do so." During the fellowship, Dr. Blizinsky will attend congressional hearings, track legislation and science policy issues, craft policy position statements and analyze the impact and implications of genomics policy. In September 2014, she will begin the fellowship in the Division of Policy, Communication, and Education’s (DPCE's) Policy and Program Analysis Branch (PPAB), and in early 2015 she will work as a staff member in a Congressional office or on a Congressional committee. Later in 2015, she will complete the last portion of the fellowship at ASHG, where she will support its involvement in legislative and policy issues. "Dr. Blizinsky has a keen interest in policy," said PPAB Chief Derek Scholes, Ph.D. "This fellowship will help her gain a range of experiences, demonstrate her capabilities, make the necessary contacts, and find a policy-related position at the end of the fellowship. "We're very pleased to support the career development of these future leaders," said Laura Lyman Rodriguez, Ph.D., director of the DPCE. "As they navigate the challenges and opportunities of working in science policy and education, they will become great contributors to our institute's mission and to the field of genomics." This report is based on press releases from the ASHG and the NHGRI. [ASHG press release] [NHGRI press release]