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Striving for the Genetics A-plus

Students who chose to undergo personal genetic testing had a better grasp of human genetics than those who chose to not get tested, researchers report in PLOS One. The study, though, relies on a small sample size.

A number of courses aimed at medical, graduate, and even undergraduate students have begun to incorporate personal genetic testing into the curriculum. Stanford University School of Medicine began offering such testing in 2010 as part of an elective course, and other schools, including Harvard Medical School, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, offer similar programs. In a press release announcing the launch of the Stanford course, the school said that the students would "learn how to analyze, evaluated, and interpret the genetic data" and that would prepare them as "physicians and biomedical researchers for a future where genomic testing increasingly becomes part of medical care."

The new PLOS One paper from Stanford's Kelly Ormond looks at how the inaugural class there fared. Of the 31 students in the class, 23 underwent genetic testing while eight did not. About 70 percent of the students who were tested said that they better understood human genetics as a result of participating in the testing. They also performed better on a set of knowledge questions than their counterparts who were not tested.

"There is always a lot of interest in whether personalized learning can influence education," Ormond says in a press release. "What our study shows is that it might have benefits for some self-selected students, and is worthy of cautious consideration."

In addition, most — 83 percent — of the students tested said they were happy with their decision to be genotyped, and testing did not appear to cause anxiety in the group.