Scripps Researcher Calls for Genome Dissection in Medical Schools

Students should study their own DNA data to prepare for individualized medicine

Dr. Topol

Cadaver dissection has long been a rite of passage for medical students, but a new era of individualized medicine offers doctors in training a more advanced way of delving into the depths of the human body through whole genome sequencing.

In a Science Translational Medicine editorial this week, Scripps Health Chief Academic Officer Eric Topol, MD, called on medical schools to make genetic dissection part of their standard curriculum by providing each student with a searchable map of his or her individual set of 6 billion nucleotides — the molecules that make up an organism’s unique genetic code — on an iPad.

“A student’s access to his or her DNA sequence would undoubtedly have a profound, life-long impact,” Dr. Topol wrote.

Such opportunity is necessary to prepare medical students for a world where physicians will routinely use genetic analysis to diagnose and treat cancers; identify the cause of mysterious, life-threatening illnesses; measure susceptibility to more common medical conditions; screen patients for the effectiveness of drugs; trace the roots of epidemics; and even map the DNA of unborn children.

“Only when opportunities for students to annotate and decipher their own genomes become widely available will medical schools create a new generation of physicians fully capable of rendering genomic medicine for their patients,” Dr. Topol wrote.

He noted that none of the 138 medical schools in the United States currently make whole genome sequencing or less extensive (and less costly) DNA tests available to students as part of their studies.

The editorial appears in the Sept. 11 issue of Science Translational Medicine, which is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dr. Topol is an internationally recognized cardiologist and genetics researcher who directs the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) in La Jolla. STSI is a National Institutes of Health-sponsored consortium led by Scripps Health in collaboration with The Scripps Research Institute and several other scientific partners.

STSI’s current research initiatives include the Wellderly Study, an examination of the DNA of as many as 1,500 healthy people aged 85 and older in search of the genetic secrets of health span, and the IDIOM Study, which uses whole genome sequencing to look for the causes and treatments of serious diseases that previously eluded diagnosis.

Learn more about Scripps Health, a nonprofit integrated health system in San Diego, Calif.

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Keith Darce

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