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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Faculty Profile: Laura Rasmussen-Torvik, PhD Assistant Professor in Preventive Medicine

Laura Rasmussen-Torvik, PhD

Laura Rasmussen-Torvik, PhD, assistant professor of preventive medicine, grew up in Madison, Wisc. She received her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth, and then moved to Minneapolis, where she received her Master’s degree in public health and Doctorate degree at the University of Minnesota. She joined Feinberg in April 2010.

This summer, Rasmussen-Tovik spent significant time with her three-year-old daughter Ivy and new baby Julia, born in July. She and her family enjoy getting outside during the warmer months, going to the beach, parks, and the local farmers’ market.

What brought you to Feinberg?
I was excited about the many large epidemiological cohort studies affiliated with the Department of Preventive Medicine and the activities of NUgene in the Center for Genetic Medicine. These resources really dovetailed well with my research interests. I am interested in using large cohort studies and large-scale genotyping (genome-wide SNP typing and sequencing) to discover novel genetic risk factors for type 2 diabetes and related conditions. I am also interested in understanding how we can use discoveries from these genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to improve both prevention and treatment of disease. I think epidemiologists have important roles to play in both areas.

What is the ultimate goal of your research?
I want to determine what forms of genetically-tailored disease treatment and prevention are most effective. Currently, there is much skepticism that any of the discoveries from GWAS will have an impact on how we treat disease. I agree that there will likely not be clinical utility for many of the discoveries, but I think some will have important ramifications for clinical care and prevention. We need carefully designed studies to find these important variants and to learn how best to communicate information about these variants to individuals.

How did you become interested in this area of research?
I was a genetics major as an undergraduate and worked in a wet lab after graduation. I loved the science in that lab, but felt my work was pretty distant from translation into human health on a population scale. This frustration led me to public health school and the field of genetic epidemiology. As a bonus, my epidemiology training rekindled my love of math and logic.

What types of collaborations are you engaged in across campus (and beyond)?
One study I work with is the eMERGE study, which includes a number of institutions from across the United States, as well as many diverse types of researchers (at Northwestern and elsewhere), including doctors, genetic counselors, geneticists, epidemiologists, statisticians, bioinformaticians, and ethicists. I am continually amazed by the diverse kinds of research coming out of that single study.

What papers have you recently published and where?
In the past year, I published a paper in Diabetes using Mendelian randomization to look at the association of fasting glucose and atherosclerosis. I also published a paper in Genetic Epidemiology on the impact of repeated measures and sample selection on GWAS. I was proud to publish in these two journals, as I like to consider myself a genetic epidemiologist with a focus on diabetes.

Who inspires you?
I was lucky enough to know three of my grandparents. My grandfather is 95 and a professor emeritus. He still goes to the office every day, reviews for journals, and sends me commentary on my articles. Both of my grandmothers were amazing women who were role models to me as smart, independent, hardworking women, and compassionate caretakers.