The importance of epidemiology
All over the world, epidemiologists are fundamental to high-level clinical research. Studying the aetiology and frequencies of diseases in patients and populations, and applying their findings to diagnosis, prediction, prevention and treatment, they make an enormous contribution to evidence-based medicine.
Epidemiologists are involved in a wide range of activities, evaluating not just strategies for screening, but also prognostic indicators, therapeutic efficacy and effectiveness, and the use of genetics in care research, cure research, and prevention. They are important in pharmacological research, and also in clinical decision-analysis – a discipline that is itself becoming increasingly important to healthcare. Together, these trends are reflected in the growth of epidemiology departments in medical schools and the pharmaceutical industry.
Advancing through collaboration
Though the trend towards personalised medicine is a global one, proper implementation will require collaboration between several sectors. For while personalised medicine has already been adopted by the healthcare-technology sector, medical education must still follow.
Similarly, as most medical schools have not yet incorporated genetic or genomic courses into their curricula, healthcare workers and medical scientists are largely unprepared for the coming revolution in medicine. Society thus needs physicians and medical scientists who can incorporate the latest developments in genetics into medical decision-making, and who can assess complex predictive evidence and risk-estimates.
Given the fundamental role of epidemiological methods in medicine, there is a clear need to integrate clinical and genetic epidemiology. To meet this challenge head-on, four of Europe’s top universities in clinical and genetic epidemiology have therefore joined forces. The results – the MADE-JM Masters’ programme – is intended to ensure that Advanced Epidemiology rapidly becomes reality.
A new era in medicine
Thanks to recent developments in biomedicine and information technology – such as proteomic profiling, metabolomic analysis, and genetic testing – we are witnessing the emergence of a new phenomenon: personalised and predictive medicine.
This is bringing us to the threshold of a truly new era, one in which we will disentangle the complex interactions between genetic and environmental factors – between gene-gene interactions and gene-environment interactions. And the better our understanding of disease and its causes, the better and more accurate the prognoses for individual patients, the greater the safety, and the better-targeted and more effective the treatments.
The new potential for incorporating genetic information into patients’ risk profiles is profoundly affecting epidemiological study designs and analytical methods. Now, to realise this potential in clinical medicine and public health, the time has come to create an Advanced Epidemiology: one in which clinical decision-analysis and pharmaco-epidemiology – clinical epidemiology – is integrated with the study of the relationship between genetic variants and diseases: genetic epidemiology.
The value of partnership
MADE-JM offers several advantages over the existing epidemiology Masters’ programmes offered by individual medical schools. First, by combining clinical and genetic epidemiology within a single innovative programme, it enables graduates with a previous Masters’ degree to study and conduct research at as many as four top European institutes.
The clinical epidemiology programme covers subjects such as study design, modern statistical methods, clinical decision analysis and pharmaco-epidemiology. The genetic epidemiology programme includes the principles of genetic epidemiology, genomics in molecular medicine, and genome-wide association analysis. Conventionally, each of these subjects would be an individual programme. Only MADE-JM brings them together.