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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Center for Genetic Medicine
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Research Topics

The Center for Genetic Medicine’s faculty members represent 33 departments or programs across three Northwestern University schools and three Feinberg-affiliated healthcare institutions. Faculty use genetics and molecular genetic approaches to understand biological processes for a diverse range of practical and clinical applications. 

Select a topic below to learn more and see a list of faculty associated with that type of research. For a full list of Center for Genetic Medicine members, visit our Members section.

 Animal Models of Human Disease

Using genetic approaches with model organisms to investigate cellular and physiological processes can lead to improved approaches for detection, prevention and treatment of human diseases.

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 Bioinformatics & Statistics

Bioinformatics, a discipline that unites biology, computer science, statistical methods, and information technology, helps researchers understand how genes or parts of genes relate to other genes, and how genes interact to form networks. These studies provide insight to normal cellular functions and how these functions are disturbed by disease. Statistics is central to genetic approaches, providing quantitative support for biological observations, and statistical genetics is heavily used by laboratories performing gene and trait mapping, sequencing and genotyping, epidemiology, population genetics and risk analysis.

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 Cancer Genetics and Genomics

Cancer begins with genetic changes, or mutations, that disrupt normal regulation of cell proliferation, survival and death. Inherited genetic changes contribute to the most common cancers, like breast and colon cancer, and genetic testing can help identify risks for disease. Tumors also develop additional genetic changes, or somatic mutations, that promote cancer growth and tumor metastases. These genetic changes can be readily defined through DNA and RNA sequencing. Genetic changes within a tumor can be used to develop and guide treatment options.

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 Cardiovascular Genetics

Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in the US, and the risk of  cardiovascular disease is highly dependent inherited genetic changes. The most common forms of heart disease including heart failure, arrhythmias, and vascular disease are under heritable genetic changes. We work to identify and understand the functions of genes that affect the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, as well as to understand the function of genes involved in the normal and pathological development of the heart.

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 Clinical and Therapeutics

Using genetic data identifies pathways for developing new therapies and applying existing therapies. DNA sequencing and epigenetic profiling of tumors helps define the precise defects responsible for cancer progression. We use genetic signals to validate pathways for therapy development.  We are using gene editing methods to correct genetic defects. These novel strategies are used to treat patients at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

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 Development

The genomic blueprint of a single fertilized egg directs the formation of the entire organism. To understand the cellular processes that allow cells to create organs and whole animals from this blueprint, we use genetic approaches to investigate the development of model organisms and humans. Induced pluripotent stem cells can be readily generated from skin, blood or urine cells and used to mirror human developmental processes. These studies help us define how genes coordinate normal human development and the changes that occur in diseases, with the goal of improving detection, prevention and treatment of human disease.

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 Epigenetics/Chromatin Structure/Gene Expression

Abnormal gene expression underlies many diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular diseases. We investigate how gene expression is regulated by chromatin structure and other regulators to understand abnormal gene expression in disease, and to learn how to manipulate gene expression for therapeutic purposes.

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 Gene Editing/Gene Therapy

Gene editing tools like CRISPR/Cas can be used to directly alter the DNA code. This tool is being used to generate cell and animal models of human diseases and disease processes. Gene therapy is being used to treat human disease conditions.

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 Genetic Counseling

As part of training in genetic counseling, each student completes a thesis project. These projects examine all aspects of genetic counseling ranging from family-based studies to mechanisms of genetic action. With the expansion of genetic testing, genetic counselors are now conducting research on outcomes, cost effectiveness, and quality improvement.

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 Genetic Determinants of Cellular Biology

Genetic mutations ultimately change the functionality of the cells in which they are found. Mutations in genes encoding nuclear, cytoplasmic and extracellular matrix protein lead to many different human diseases, ranging from neurological and developmental disorders to cancer and heart disease. Using induced pluripotent stem cell and gene-editing technologies, it is now possible to generate and study nearly every human genetic disorder. Having cellular models of disease is necessary to develop new treatments.

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 Immunology

Many immunological diseases, such as Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, scleroderma, and others have a genetic basis. We work to understand how genetic changes and misregulation contribute to immunological diseases, and use genetic approaches to investigate how the immune system functions.

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 Infectious Disease/Microbiome

The susceptibility and/or pathological consequences of many infectious diseases have a genetic basis. We investigate how human genes interact with infectious diseases, and use genetic approaches to determine the interactions between pathogens and the host. Genetic tools, including deep sequencing, are most commonly used to define the microbiome as it undergoes adaptation and maladaptation to its host environment.

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 Neuroscience

We work to understand how genes contribute to neurological diseases, and use genetic approaches to investigate how the nervous system functions. Epilepsy, movement disorders, and dementia are heritable and under genetic influence. Neuromuscular diseases including muscular dystrophies and myopathies arise from primary mutations and research in genetic correction is moving into human trials and drug approvals.

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 Population Genetics/Epidemiology

Genetic data is increasingly available from large human populations and is advancing the population-level understanding of genetic risk. Northwestern participates in All-Of-US, which aims to build a cohort of one million citizens to expand genetic knowledge of human diseases. Race and ancestry have genetic determinants and genetic polymorphisms can help mark disease risks better than other markers of race/ancestry. We use epidemiology and population genetics to investigate the genetic basis of disease, and to assess how genetic diseases affect subgroups within broader populations.

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 Reproduction

Research is examining how germ cells are specified. We study the broad range of biology required to transmit genetic information from one generation to another, and how to facilitate the process of reproduction when difficulties arise or to avoid passing on mutant genes.

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