School of Public Health awarded $450,850 for genome research

February 5, 1997

ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan School of Public Health has received a three-year $450,850 grant from the National Center for Human Genome Research of the National Institutes of Health. The grant will support the documentation and transferability of a curriculum developed at the U-M for public health students in public health genetics.

The curriculum, which will include three core courses, electives, internships, other resources and a future Web site, is being designed so that any of the 26 other U.S. schools of public health can adopt the program. Deans from many of the schools have already expressed a keen interest.

“Genetics technology is revolutionizing how we think about health,” said Noreen M. Clark, dean of the U-M School of Public Health. “Each new development in basic science requires that we consider how it will influence not only the health of individuals but of whole communities. The curriculum combines the disciplines of public health— epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, health management and policy, and health behavior and education, with the study of genetics to enable students to pioneer ways that will better promote health and prevent disease.”

“Since U-M was one of the original sites of the Human Genome Project and because we are heavily invested in genetics technology and public policy development, we feel particularly well-equipped to create and transfer this important curriculum to other schools,” added Patricia A. Peyser, director of the Interdepartmental Concentration in Public Health Genetics and one of the developers of the model curriculum.

According to principal investigator Susan M. Caumartin, “the curriculum is designed for students who do not have a strong science background. Students will develop an understanding of the structure and function of genetic material along with the principles that underlie its transmission in families and populations.”

Students also will analyze the ethical, legal and social implications of the application of genetic technology and the impact it will have on the traditional notion of preventive health.

“For instance,” Caumartin said, “who should have access to the results of genetics tests? Just the individuals being tested? Their spouses? Their employers? Should insurance companies be allowed to refuse coverage to a young adult because he or she is found to have a predisposition to a late-onset health condition? Should children be tested? How will this information contribute to our definition of what it means to be healthy? These are thorny issues that the public health students, health care professionals and the community as a whole will be confronting in the next century. We all need to be prepared.”