Last week I made the case for more education in genomics for nurses, but it’s just as important to educate non-healthcare professionals. Doctors and non-doctors alike are largely unaware of the power current genomic technology has to change how diagnoses are reached and treatments administered. Progress is being made, but there are still hurdles to jump.
Direct-to-consumer genetic tests offer an sobering example of how a lack of knowledge can lead to unintended results. This story by Julia Belluz from Vox shows that the popular ancestry test from 23andMe lead to some uncomfortable findings for some families. The company was totally unprepared for how to deal with the fallout from their customers finding family they didn’t know they had, and how that knowledge can tear a family apart. 23andMe ended up reversing a planned user policy change, which would have made it easier for these unwanted occurrences to happen. If 23andMe had adequately informed potential customers on the nature of the test, or if the public at large had a better understanding of even the basics of genomics, this confusion could have been avoided.
An exciting show of progress is the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History exhibit, “Geome: Unlocking Life’s Code”. The exhibit has seen 3 million visitors since it’s opened just over two years ago, and has done so well that the creators are taking it on tour across North America starting this fall. Visitors have enjoyed the interactive nature of the displays, especially the “Trait Tree,” which allows people to discover how some of their traits were passed down through the generations. An exhibit such as this shows that there is an public interest in learning more about genomics and just how powerful it is. There is even a section detailing how genomics will revolutionize healthcare. You can see an overview of the exhibit, and video of the related seminars here.
Educating doctors and the public alike is a founding principle of the New Amsterdam Genomics blog. Genomics is truly revolutionary in nature. The information revealed by accurately sequencing the human genome is expansive, and we continue to grow our knowledge of the implications in a clinical setting. Public education on exactly what a genetic test is, and what the results implicate, is essential to driving mainstream clinical use of genome testing.