Medical and graduate students will get the chance to sequence and interpret their own genomes in what is being billed as the first-ever course to offer whole-genome sequencing.
Mount Sinai Medical School in New York is offering an elective course called ‘Practical Analysis of Your Personal Genome’ this year. The goal is to teach upcoming physicians how sequencing information might affect clinical care.
Students can choose to sequence their own or an anonymous genome. This will reveal several million variants, many with known implications for disease and health, and many more with unclear significance. Students may learn their risk for common diseases such as cancer or diabetes and also whether they carry mutations that could cause single-gene disorders in their children.
Mount Sinai will also use questionnaires to find out whether students opting to analyse their own genomes know more about sequencing and how they feel about the utility and psychological impact of whole-genome sequencing. The 20-person class comprises graduate and medical students as well as junior faculty, the school said in an announcement.
Students analysing their own blood types or even karyotypes have run into trouble when tests revealed unpleasant surprises. In a post in the Guardian, Cath Ennis explains that she lost the chance to see her own chromosomes as part of an undergraduate class because results from the preceding year’s class had sent an entire family to genetic counselling.
In 2010, a programme at the University of California, Berkeley, offered incoming freshman the chance for genetic analysis of three genes implicated in absorbing folic acid, tolerating lactose and metabolizing alcohol. The point was to give students a common topic for discussion and reflection, but the California State Department halted the programme, saying it was unauthorized clinical testing. In any case, only about 700 of the 5,000 potential student participants had sent in the supplied cheek swabs.
Other schools have incorporated genetic testing, but not extensive sequencing, into their coursework. In 2010, Stanford University in California announced an elective class in which students could opt to pay US$99 for genotyping from personal-genetics companies 23andMe or Navigenics to analyse DNA samples for thousands of known variants. The course, ‘Genomics and Personalized Medicine’, has been offered every year since then and will run for the fourth time this winter, says course co-developer Keyan Salari.
In 2009, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, partnered with Navigenics, based in Foster City, California, to offer testing as part of a course on personalized genomics.
Many medical schools are incorporating genomic topics into their programmes, as detailed this month in Clinical Genomics. Nonetheless, the article says, only about 10% of general physicians and 30% of cancer doctors felt up to speed in how to incorporate genomic data in their patients’ medical care, and only 20% had received specialized training in genomic medicine.