Genetic Counseling Central in Clinical Genomics

As broader, more accurate genetic tests reach the market, Certified Genetic Counselors (CGC) will remain an important part of the process of delivering this information to the patient. Genomics isn’t solely about genetic testing, it’s about understanding and contextualizing all hereditary information available for a patient in order to better understand their health.This includes genotype, of course, as well as family history of specific diseases, and personal medical history. The job of a certified genetic counselor (CGC) is to compile and deliver all of this information to their patients in a context that helps guide the patient towards a personal health plan. Genetic counselors are key to the future of genomic medicine.

Family tree showing heritability of an autosomal dominant trait.
Family tree showing heritability of an autosomal dominant trait.

Currently, the most common type of genetic testing is to assess risk for breast, ovarian, and colon cancer. As I’ve written before, these cancers have a strong connection to heritability. A CGC can sit down with you, go over your family history, and tell you what that means for your cancer risk. From there, you may decide to undergo a genetic test. This is how it often works today. The counseling role is extremely important because of the sensitivity of the information involved.

Next-generation sequencing, however, has made broader genetic tests more accurate, thus clinically viable. These types of tests, called Whole Exome Sequencing or Whole Genome Sequencing tests, look at a much greater number of genes than the comparatively simple tests now commonly used. It stands to reason that a genomic counselors role is expanded. Even in a scenario in which a point-of-care genomics tool is used, genetic counselors will still hold the responsibility of relating the findings to the patient. The doctor may have ordered the test  in order to help guide treatment. Now equipped with knowledge of the patient’s genetic information the conversation on how best to proceed should be between patient, doctor and genetic counselor.

Education is one the pillars of this blog, and key to the future of genomics in a clinical setting. However genomic medicine evolves from here must include genetic counselors, as they are the currently the most educated profession in clinical applications of genomic research. Here at New Amsterdam Genomics, we’re excited to get our solution into the hands of genetic counselors across the country.

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