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UPDATE: Stanford Med Students Offered Option to Study Their Own Genotype Data

This article has been updated to include comments from a University of Pennsylvania professor, who offered a similar course to students.

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Stanford University School of Medicine today said that it will offer a new course that gives medical and graduate students an option to study their personal genotype data.

The university said that it believes it is the first medical school to offer students such a course. However, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine offered its fourth-year medical students a similar course in personalized medicine this past year.

In the Stanford course, students will learn how to analyze, evaluate, and interpret the genetic data, the limitations of existing technologies, and the legal and ethical issues surrounding personal genotyping.

The course will be an elective and will be offered during the school's summer quarter, which begins June 21.

The UPenn course also included a discussion of the ethical, legal, and social implications of personalized medicine, according to Professor Reed Pyeritz, who offered the course and is director of the school's Center for the Integration of Genetic Healthcare Technologies. Students in the UPenn course were offered an option to have their genome scanned by the Coriell Personalized Medicine Collaborative.

Recently, the University of California, Berkeley, came under criticism for its plan to ask new students to voluntarily provide DNA samples for a genetic analysis program.

Stanford said that the decision to offer the students personal genotyping was debated by a medical school task force over the past year. It said that while some task members did not favor offering the class, a majority recommended adopting it.

"Over decades, Stanford scientists have contributed substantially to our understanding of the human genome, and now the potential clinical implications of these discoveries are being investigated," Charles Prober, the school's senior associate dean for medical education, said in a statement. "It is critical for our students to develop a deep, rich understanding of the hope and the limitations of personal genomics."

Among the precautionary measures implemented by the course organizers, according to the university, are the offering of the course as an elective; making genetic testing optional for those enrolled; ensuring students receive adequate education prior to having the genotyping done; giving students the option of using either their own data or publicly available genome data for classroom exercises, with instructors "blinded" as to which type of data individual students are using; and making counseling easily available to students seeking advice or support.

The course schedule calls for the first two weeks to be spent focusing on the legal, ethical, and social implications of genetic testing, and the different kinds of commercially available tests. After the first two weeks, students will decide whether to be genotyped by one of two consumer genomics firms: Navigenics or 23andMe. The university noted that students will be asked to make a $99 co-pay to avoid the financial inducement of getting a "free" test.

"Asking them to pay part of the cost will give the students another pause to consider, 'Do I really want to do this?'" Prober said.

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