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Spreading the Word

Human genome science is beginning to have an affect on healthcare, and it is seeping into consumer markets, expanding healthcare and the way people think about their health, ancestry, and themselves. It's also all over the media, with stories about 'fat genes' and 'smart genes' that are half-news and half-hype bubbling up into the News-iverse daily.

But genomic medicine also is a complex and changing field that is ripe for misinterpretation and misunderstandings not only by average folks, but physicians and policymakers as well. NIH has emphasized the need for enhanced education efforts and better genomic literacy in healthcare, education, and in the broader culture in general.

Georgetown University Medical Center agrees, and on June 4 it will launch a 16-hour massive open online course, or MOOC, in which some high-profile scientists and others will try to explain the many dynamic facets of genomic medicine.

GUMC Associate Professor Bassem Haddad, who is directing the course, says genomics is moving so swiftly that traditional med school lectures can't keep up.

"Rarely a day passes without news of current or future use of genetics in medicine — how a mutated gene can be targeted to treat cancer, how genomic testing can reveal disease susceptibility, whether genes contribute to brain disorders … and therefore could be prevented or treated," Haddad says.

More than 20,000 people have already signed up to take the MOOC, Genomic Medicine Gets Personal, which is the third course in its Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning, Georgetown says.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D – Fla.) will kick off the course with a personal touch by talking about her experiences with breast cancer, and NHGRI Director Eric Green and ASHG Director Cynthia Morton also will provide lectures for series.

Georgetown has created the course to touch on a number of disciplines, and faculty members with expertise in genetics, computational sciences, genetic counseling, bioethics, law, business, and other areas will join the lectures.