Bass Connections team tackles precision health, medicine

Tuesday, April 23, 2019
By Alissa Kocer

The 2018-2019 Enabling Precision Health and Medicine Bass Connection team showcased their work at the 2019 Bass Connections Fair on April 17. They focused on precision health by looking at the challenges in developing applications to support healthy living and on precision medicine by looking for ways to increase awareness of family health history. The team split into two sub groups to tackle these challenges.


Five students, Sarah Bond, Grant Kim, Nathan Parikh, Christine Wang and Lauren Willis, led by Susanne Haga, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine; Geoff Ginsburg, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine (CAGPM) and professor of medicine; and Ryan Shaw, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor of nursing, laid the groundwork for a campus-wide precision health initiative called WearDuke. This initiative is designed to promote healthy living through student engagement with digital health wearable devices and novel learning opportunities.

three people standing in front of scientific poster

Bass Connections student Sarah Bond with team leads

Susanne Haga and Ryan Shaw

To build the infrastructure for WearDuke, the team researched wearables, health and nutrition surveys and incentive systems to identify which to include in the initiative. They also conducted a survey and held focus groups to gain feedback from students. “My favorite part about working on this project was administrating the focus groups.” Sarah Bond said. “It was rewarding to receive primarily positive feedback on all of the work we had done previously in the semester.”

The first pilot project for WearDuke will run during the 2019 – 2020 academic year and will take place in the Gilbert Addoms residence hall. Students participating in the pilot project will be asked to complete weekly surveys on sleep, general health, mental health, caffeine intake and academic performance. They will also receive a Fitbit or an Apple Watch to use as their wearable device. The WearDuke team will assess the feasibility and acceptance of wearable device with a companion app to record sleep and activity habits.

During the 2020-2021 academic year, the initiative will expand to two residence halls and will evaluate the range of interventions to improve sleep habits. Finally, during the 2021-2022 academic year, all first-year students will be able to participate in WearDuke.

Led by Grant Kim, the team, also developed a website with general information about the initiative. When the pilot study launches this summer, students will be able to enroll in the study, complete the baseline survey, and pre-order their wearable.

“Because of this project, I have a greater awareness of how lack of sleep can negatively impact my day-to-day life,” Bond said. “I also noticed that utilizing a wearable increased my motivation to get lots of steps each day.”

Increasing Awareness and Accessibility of Family Health History Collection

Three students, Elise Cai, Kimberly Calero and Connor King, led by Susanne Haga, Ph.D., and Lori Orlando, M.D., associate professors of medicine, worked to create an online resource to educate people about how to collect and share their family health history (FHH) and provide information about the cultural considerations, like religion, race, ethnicity and age behind FHH.

Their research taught them about the challenges of collecting from family members and sharing it with healthcare providers. In particular, certain groups, like young adults, are more likely to have a greater lack of awareness about how to collect FHH and its significance to health. Based on research from last year’s Bass Connections team, many young adults may not know how to gather their FHH or what questions to ask, and some might not even care about collecting this information at all. However, many life-long health behaviors are made during adolescence and young adulthood. Knowing risks and monitoring health at a younger age will put people in a better position to future potential health concerns.

Enabling Precision Health & Medicine Bass Connections students

Kim Calero and Elise Cai

The team also learned more about how other cultures view FHH. “Coming from a background where I have discussed my FHH with different members of my family, I think was easy to forget that everyone’s experiences vary,” Kimberly Calero said. People in the Latino community, for example, may benefit from culturally-trained provider and interpreter services to help them better understand the importance of FHH. Chinese Americans may be hesitant to discuss FHH because disease discussion, especially surrounding mental illness, is a traditionally sensitive topic. “There are many different nuances that are important to take into consideration,” Elise Cai said. “For example, certain languages use the words ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ to refer to people who are not blood relatives, and that knowledge can help increase accessibility, ease, and accuracy of FHH collection.”

To house all the information they collected and make it usable and accessible to a broad audience, the team created a website called “Your Family Health History,” that includes information about the project, an overview of FHH, how to collect and use FHH, cultural consideration of FHH, online FHH tools, frequently asked questions, resources, and a glossary of terms. The website will go live in June 2019.

“Being a part of this team has solidified my interest in pursuing a career as a physician assistant,” Calero said. “This project gave me a glimpse into what goes into to creating a community resource, and also inspired me to keep working towards becoming a PA that works with marginalized communities because these groups so often are overlooked or under-addressed in considerations of health.”