Prepare young people for genomics’ ‘quiet revolution’
Though you might not notice, advances in genetics and genomics are revolutionising everyday healthcare – something young people need to be prepared to engage with, say Matthew Hickman, Bella Starling and Peter Finegold.
A recent article on BBC News highlighted the apparent gap between the promises made when the human genome was sequenced, and what doctors are able to offer in terms of disease diagnosis and treatment.
The article mentions some ‘promises’ already in clinical practice, such as pharmacogenetics, but suggests that the cost of sequencing a person’s whole genome is a limiting factor. However, whole genome sequencing has already been used in medical diagnoses, with some commercial suppliers advertising a fee of $698 for whole ‘exome’ sequencing, and Life Technologies’ new machine being capable of whole genome sequencing for $1000 – a long-targeted barrier.
Of course, finding out which genes are implicated in disease does not necessarily lead to immediate treatments or cures. But it is likely that over the next few years, a quiet revolution will take place, in which at least some treatments offered by doctors will take into account a patient’s genetic make-up. A trip to the doctors might be a very different experience in the not-too-distant future.
Currently, most people are not aware of any significant change in how doctors view, diagnose or treat diseases as a result of the huge advances in genomic science. Young people in particular have limited opportunities to find out about changes happening in research and in the clinic and are thus underprepared in dealing with genomics and the issues it raises.
The Nowgen Schools Genomics Programme (NSGP) aims to address this by narrowing the gap between genomics research and classroom genetics. Our preliminary research [PDF 372KB] shows that both teachers and pupils might know the ABC (or rather ACGT…) of Mendelian genetics, yet they only have limited confidence to address questions about how 21st century genetics and genomics research may affect their healthcare provision and choices.
Teachers find genetics fascinating and relevant, but feel ill-equipped to teach the genetics of common and complex conditions, such as cancer and diabetes, in which a number of genes, each individually having a small or moderate effect, will combine to influence an individual’s risk of developing a certain condition. Likewise young people are keen to find out more about the genetics of common and complex conditions, and rated it more important to study than those diseases traditionally examined in school. The NSGP is supporting teaching genomics in schools, through a range of accessible classroom resources, and by encouraging Government and the examination boards to introduce genomics into curricula and examination specifications.
Matthew Hickman, Bella Starling and Peter Finegold
Dr Matthew Hickman is Education Project Manager at Nowgen
Dr Bella Starling is Director of Public Programmes at Nowgen
Peter Finegold is an independent consultant at Isinglass Consultancy
Nowgen is a centre for excellence in public engagement, education and training in biomedicine, with a focus on genetics. It is a partnership between the Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and The University of Manchester. More information about the Nowgen Schools Genomics Programme is available online at www.nowgen.org.uk/nsgp.
The Nowgen Schools Genomics Programme is supported by the Wellcome Trust through a Society Award.