Teaching About Genetic Testing Issues in the Undergraduate Classroom: A Case Study
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- Rogers, J.C. & Taylor, A.T.S. J Genet Counsel (2011) 20: 231. doi:10.1007/s10897-011-9352-2
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Educating undergraduates about current genetic testing and genomics can involve novel and creative teaching practices. The higher education literature describes numerous pedagogical approaches in the laboratory designed to engage science and liberal arts students. Often these experiences involve students analyzing their own genes for various polymorphisms, some of which are associated with disease states such as an increased risk for developing cancer. While the literature acknowledges possible ethical ramifications of such laboratory exercises, authors do not present recommendations or rubrics for evaluating whether or not the testing is, in fact, ethical. In response, we developed a laboratory investigation and discussion which allowed undergraduate science students to explore current DNA manipulation techniques to isolate their p53 gene, followed by a dialogue probing the ethical implications of examining their sample for various polymorphisms. Students never conducted genotyping on their samples because of ethical concerns, so the discussion served to replace actual genetic testing in the class. A basic scientist led the laboratory portion of the assignment. A genetic counselor facilitated the discussion, which centered around existing ethical guidelines for clinical genetic testing and possible challenges of human genotyping outside the medical setting. In their final papers, students demonstrated an understanding of the practice guidelines established by the genetics community and acknowledged the ethical considerations inherent in p53 genotyping. Given the burgeoning market for personalized medicine, teaching undergraduates about the psychosocial and ethical dimensions of human gene testing seems important and timely, and introduces an additional role genetic counselors can play in educating consumers about genomics.