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Indiana State professors research growth of genomic development

August 14, 2014

Two Indiana State University professors and an undergraduate political science student researcher hope ranking states by genomic development will spur growth in the up-and-coming industry nationwide.

The research began a few years ago when Dr. Nathan Myers, Indiana State assistant professor of political science, and Dr. Chia-An Chao, professor of business education, information and technology in the Scott College of Business, decided to combine Myers' interest - public policy - and Chao's interest - business issues.

Their goal was to benefit both their research agendas and the Center for Genomic Advocacy, an interdisciplinary group of Indiana State faculty members who collaborate to teach classes on genomic advocacy.

"Our idea was to look at genomic development - measuring how much a state has in terms of infrastructure, public policy, personnel and funding to further the use of genomics," Myers said. "The idea behind that was states could potentially benefit economically, socially and in terms of health care by bolstering their genomic development."

Myers and his colleagues used aA University Research Committee grant was used to collect data on ranking states by their genomic development.

"We thought it would be good to find a compleimentary measure to gauge our validity, so we decided to do a biotechnology development index looking, not only at the genomics side, but at biotechnology in general," Myers said. "We were hoping to find an index already out there and compare our index to that, but we found there wasn't really a state-level measure of biotechnology development. It was all rankings of biotech clusters, which are generally metropolitan areas that have a lot of biotechnology infrastructure and development."

One index of clusters "seemed especially sound" so Myers said they decided to collect state-level data that was similar to the data in the metropolitan level index. The weighting system and calculations from the metropolitan level index were used to generate a biotech development index to compare with the genomic development index.

Myers and Chao worked with senior undergraduate political science student Sarah Rusie of Coatesville as part of Indiana State'sthe Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program.

"Our purpose for doing the SURE research with the biotech index was to validate this previous index we created, but questions emerged about the similarity between the two indices and what that says about the role of genomics in the biotech industry?" Myers said. "There's potential in biotech to bolster the state's economy, but is there a niche industry of genomic technology that is unique and can states benefit from that?"

With an interest in innovation development and diffusion, Chao said the biotechnology and genomic development indices provide a measure of the development of these innovations across the U.S.

"This broad survey is the starting point for other studies, such as the underlying economic and political conditions conducive to such development, and the results should be of interest to state economic development leaders and policy makers," she said.

Using the URC grant to collect the initial data in 2012, Rusie, collected the biotech data in 2012 and formatted it for calculation before presenting the findings at the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience symposium.

When Rusie was approached by Myers about working with him on this project,Rusie she saw the project as a great opportunity to apply her research experience and learn new research methodology and methods of data analysis.

"I have recently become more interested in health science, so researching biotechnology sounded exciting to me," she said. "I did research to find which indicators we should use for the index and determined the best sources from which to collect data. This was important because I wanted to ensure that the data accurately measured our indicators. Finally, I collected data on all the indicators."

To a certain extent, Myers said the findings were what he expected.

"We found a reasonable correlation between the two measures of about .698, which is statistically significant. Overall, there seemed to be a pretty substantial amount of agreement that the states ranked higher on the biotech index tended to be ranked higher on the genomic index," Myers said.

Last year, Myers worked with Chao and students Robert Webb and Dianne Reeves, a political science major and an education major, on research about public policy and informed consent laws for genetic research and testing in the state.

"We're bringing people together to look at a variety of different problems through a variety of different lenses, and I think we're coming up with interesting findings and developing interesting research that show a real value to interdisciplinary education," Myers said.

Massachusetts ranked at the top of both the genomic and biotech development indices, while Wyoming ranked at the bottom on both. Myers said they also found significant overlap between the top and bottom 15 states on both indices.

The findings at the end of the SURE period are preliminary but interesting, Myers said.

"Once we have a finalized index, we could potentially update it in the future, but the case studies are our focus now," he said. "(The case studies) will give us an idea of what is going on in the states and give us as idea of possible explanations for the differences between the two indices and get to larger questions, like what this means for the field of genomics as a scientific discipline and a business and medical venture in trying to develop personalized medicine?"

Ranked 32nd in genomics and 21st in biotechnology, Indiana is has the start of a good biotech infrastructure with the presence of Eli Lily and similar businesses, Myers said.

"Since the Center for Genomic Advocacy started, we've looked at what's going on in Indiana and where the resources are. There's a lot of infrastructure to delve into it but a lot hasn't been tapped," he said. "Indiana State has recognized that genomics and genetic testing are becoming important components of health care nationwide, so we're doing our part through the Center for Genomic Advocacy as well as working to establish a master's degree in genetic counseling that will prepare students to participate in the field."

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or Betsy.Simon@indstate.edu