Adding DNA to the ABCs of Med School

February 3rd, 2011
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Last week, GenomeWeb News reported (free subscription required for full access) that a multi-disciplinary team from Tufts University had “urged gradual and calculated incorporation of genomic material into medical school training programs” after the team had looked at potential consequences of introducing genomics-related training into the curriculum at Tufts University School of Medicine.
According to the GenomeWeb article, several medical school faculty members were voluntarily genotyped using 23andMe tests. Medical students then analyzed the collected information. Based on a year’s plus analysis and implementation of the program, the researchers called for inclusion of personal genomics-related training and information within medical schools.
The lead study author wrote, “We strongly advocate that genomic analysis and personalized medicine is a necessity for modern medical school education… Our experiences illustrate that adding this material to a medical school curriculum is a complex process that deserves careful thought and broad discussion within the academic community.”

The recommendation of the researchers is significant because it is an acknowledgement by the academic medical community that consumers/patients are demonstrating interest in understanding their genomic data and that companies (like 23andMe) are stepping up to meet that need. From my vantage point, an equally significant question becomes, “How do we keep physicians from being left in the dark as consumers (a.k.a. patients and patients-in-waiting) are armed with handfuls of genomics data?” As the study authors wrote: “There is an expanding gap between the availability of direct-to-consumer whole genome testing and physician knowledge regarding interpretation of test results.”
Adopting genomics training and information into the curriculum for medical school will start to close the gap – at least for younger physicians currently attending school. We can only wonder how many years (or generations) it will take for physician attitudes toward the information (and how it may be used) to really change – or to catch up.
And, just as we start to consider the training of physicians in how best to use and consider this data, we must also ask, “How and who will train the consumers?”
As always, scientific and medical breakthroughs lead to tremendous opportunity in tandem with tremendous questions around practical adoption and use. We’ll continue to follow these developments and to report on them here.
Please feel free to lend your voice to this topic. We look forward to hearing from you.

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About the Author:

I founded Popper and Company with Ken Walz more than ten years ago to address inefficiencies in health care by helping life science companies develop and commercialize new technology. Today, the members of our growing team leverage their extensive knowledge of the tools and trends shaping all aspects of health care and its participants. Send me an email.