Loren Saulsberry, PhD, Human Genetics Scholar, is an Assistant Professor in Health Policy and Health Services Research in the Department of Public Health Sciences at The University of Chicago. Her research program aims to evaluate and guide the implementation of pharmacogenomics (PGx) into clinical practice in a manner that advances health equity within genomic medicine. Dr. Saulsberry received her Ph.D. in Health Policy from Harvard University and is an alumna of the Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center’s Training in Oncology Population Sciences Program.
ASHG: Could you describe your research for us? What are your career goals?
Loren: My research studies the diffusion, implementation, and uptake of emerging medical technologies to treat chronic diseases with a particular focus on how health innovations impact health disparities. My career goals include leading a research program that evaluates and guides the implementation of genomics into clinical practice in a manner that advances health equity within medicine. My current research projects assess patient-provider experiences with pharmacogenomics in order to direct care delivery approaches that are appropriately tailored to diverse populations, especially those at risk for experiencing inequities in health. I hope my work will ultimately inform health policy to ensure that the potential of genomics to improve health is equally available to all.
ASHG: Why did you choose genetics as your field of study?
Loren: I was attracted to genetics because of its significance to medicine and it being a truly translational field of scientific inquiry. I saw great value and purpose in addressing the complex health policy questions and challenges that arise because genetics touches upon areas of basic science, clinical care, and public health.
ASHG: If you could pick three words that describe yourself, what would they be?
- Imaginative. I find my best insights come when I alter my perspective and look at an issue from an unconventional angle or lens. This is part of what drew me to an interdisciplinary research field, which can borrow and lend methodologies to innovate within our health system.
- Collaborative. To solve the most challenging problems will require breaking out of traditional silos in biomedicine. Team science that leverages multiple types of expertise holds great promise to design targeted interventions in genomic medicine.
- Persistent. Health disparities have been documented within our health system for a long time now, and they did not spontaneously arise. Neither will they be immediately eradicated given the inequities inherent in our society and within many of our institutions. Thus, persistence in studying and monitoring the impact of genomics on health disparities will be necessary to keep moving the needle towards greater health equity.
ASHG: Please describe your current position.
Loren: I am an Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Health Services Research in the Department of Public Health Sciences at The University of Chicago.
ASHG: Are there aspects of your training that you feel were crucial to help you get to where you are now?
Loren: My training in a health policy doctoral program with a focus in political analysis and completing a fellowship during graduate school in the Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center’s Training in Oncology Population Sciences Program was crucial in guiding my career to translational genomics. This training emphasized the importance of contextualizing health outcomes research with the sociopolitical aspects of a health issue and the implications for diverse populations. Additionally, these training programs exposed me to a range of mentors, including clinical researchers, whose respective expertise enhanced both the rigor and the real-world applications of my research.
ASHG: What advice would you give your former trainee-self or other trainees?
Loren: Keep an open mind to the various opportunities that will arise throughout your training and career. Don’t be afraid to explore the boundaries within your areas of interest that might lead you in unexpected new directions. It’s been taking the non-traditional approaches or paths that have been some of most fulfilling for me professionally and personally.
ASHG: What are the biggest challenges and rewards of your job?
Loren: Perhaps not surprising and certainly not unique to academia, but the most challenging aspect of my job is perpetually trying to fit more into a limited number of hours in the day. There is always another research project, hour I want to spend with a student/trainee, or a new service commitment that I would love to take on.
The most rewarding parts of my job are: 1) it is one of life-long learning and teaching, 2) it gives me the privilege to study what I am most interested and passionate about for my career, and 3) it is one where I get to dedicate my life’s work to an area that can positively impact lives and improve health.
ASHG: What do you think the future holds for the field of genetics/genomics?
Loren: I think genetics/genomics has received a great deal of attention for its enormous potential in determining disease risk and medical treatment, and consequently, improving health outcomes. Less attention, to date, has been dedicated to evaluating the economic, social, legal/regulatory, and political implications of genetic/genomic innovations. I hope my work and that of other scholars in these areas facilitates grappling with these issues sooner rather than later. It is only through evidence-based, thoughtful, and intentional use of genetics/genomics that we will be able to responsibly employ these powerful technologies to eliminate health disparities rather than exacerbate them.