Genetics Education Sees Uptick in Curricula

February 17, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

As genomic medicine continues to advance, school curricula will have to evolve so that the health care team can become more genetically literate.

As genomic medicine continues to advance, school curricula will have to evolve so that the health care team can become more genetically literate.

New research published in Genetics in Medicine took a look at 2013-2014 trends in genetics curricula and found that genetics education was playing an increasing role in undergraduate courses, though perhaps not enough.

US and Canadian medical genetics course directors completed a 60-item questionnaire on curriculum design, assessment, remediation of failing grades, and the inclusion of specific topics. With a response rate of 74%, the course directors reported an increase in integrated curricula, but most responders said the time devoted to genetics education was “insufficient preparation” for clinical practice.

Topics that have been added to curricula include pharmacogenetics, personalized medicine, and direct-to-consumer testing. Meanwhile, linkage analysis and evolutionary genetics were getting scrapped.

While new topics are being introduced, there is still a decline in the formal instruction of genetics as students pass through school. Most of the directors said that the majority of genetics education was taught in the first 2 years of undergraduate school, and only about one-quarter said formal genetics was taught in the last 2 years of school.

Shoumita Dasgupta, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Medicine, Biomedical Genetics Section, and director of graduate studies, genetics, and genomics at the Boston University School of Medicine told Pharmacy Times why this study is relevant to pharmacists, highlighting a need for the whole health care team to be educated about genetics.

“In order to appropriately implement precision medicine in clinical practice, it will be necessary to have interprofessional health care teams with high levels of literacy in genetics and genomics,” Dr. Dasgupta told Pharmacy Times. “Importantly, pharmacogenetics is 1 of the areas recently highlighted in the new [National Institute of Health] Precision Medicine Initiative, which ultimately aims to individually tailor treatments to a patient’s unique genetic, lifestyle, and environmental profile.”

In a recent podcast featured on Pharmacy Times, Shawn Desai, PhD, JD, a chemist and a cofounder and chief technology officer at a clinical laboratory in Georgia, talked about how pharmacogenomics—the study of how genetics affect a person’s response to medicine—can dovetail with medication therapy management (MTM).

While typical MTM explores a patient’s age, race, sex, and dosage of medications, Dr. Desai said pharmacogenomics could take that analysis a step further by looking at a patient’s genetic information. For pharmacists, this could mean a deeper layer added to their study of patients’ medications.