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DTC for Docs-To-Be

The Stanford University School of Medicine has announced it is offering a course for medical and biomedical research graduate students, in which participants will be given the opportunity of interpreting their own results from direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies. "The students will learn how to analyze, evaluated, and interpret the genetic data, the limitations of existing technologies, and the legal and ethical issues raised by personal genotyping," the Stanford statement reads, in order to "prepare physicians and biomedical researchers for a future where genomic testing increasingly becomes part of medical care." Before deciding to offer the course, Stanford Med dean Philip Pizzo organized a task force of both basic and clinical science faculty, bioethicists, students, and education officials to evaluate the educational merits of the class, and weigh them against the potential risks. Task force members debated whether Stanford should pay for students' genetic testing — through either Navigenics of 23andMe, the two companies licensed to offer DTC genetic services in California — and whether the "students would be adequately prepared to understand the results." In the end, they decided that students should pay a $99 co-pay; Stanford will foot the remainder of the bill from either company — both of which offer educational discounts. They've also implemented some "precautionary measures," including making the genetic testing optional; participating students can choose to analyze their own data or that from publicly available genomes — instructors will be blinded as to individual students' choices. Additionally, Stanford says, the instructors will make sure the students "receive adequate baseline education prior to deciding whether to have genotyping done," and counseling will be made readily accessible to any student seeking support. The organizers expect about 50 students to enroll in the eight-week elective, which begins June 21. In explaining the overall rationale for the initiative, MD/PhD candidate Keyan Salari said: "These tests are already available to the lay public. ... Many people look to medical professionals for authoritative health advice," adding that "we need doctors and researchers who are knowledgeable about the benefits, limitations and interpretation of personal genome testing."

Reed Pyeritz, chief of the division of medical genetics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, tells our sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News that he offered a similar course to his fourth-year medical students last year. Students in Pyeritz's class had the option to have their genomes scanned by the Coriell Personalized Medicine Collaborative, he tells GWDN.