With the increasing availability of personal genetic testing, glimpsing your future risk of disease based on your own genetic makeup is now more tempting that ever.
But it also raises many questions. Do you know what you’re signing up for? What health-related decisions would you then make? Would your results be kept private?
More than 9,000 students from 144 countries will delve into these issues with some of the world’s leading medical researchers next month when UNSW Australia hosts its first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Personalised Medicine.
The free eight-week UNSW course is the first to cover personalised medicine from an Australian perspective in a comprehensive way. Personalised medicine refers to the idea of tailoring treatment to individual patients based on their genetic code.
According to UNSW cancer researcher and course lead, Dr Caroline Ford, personalised medicine holds great promise for patients worldwide, yet also raises many ethical, cultural and legal dilemmas.
“From a global perspective, there is a lot we still don’t know about the impact of personalised medicine in various countries and cultures, with many questions remaining unanswered,” Dr Ford says.
“Genetic testing will provide patients with greater ownership over their health decisions but it’s important that they are well informed before they make major decisions based on these tests.
“This MOOC is a great way to increase the health literacy of a global audience and their understanding of how genetic testing is currently being used to guide treatment of diseases.”
Fellow course lead, UNSW’s Dr Orin Chisholm, is urging health practitioners to enrol in the course.
“Despite the last 10 years having yielded significant and rapid advances in our understanding of the human genome, so many healthcare professionals did not learn about this in their training,” Dr Chisholm says.
“Yet some will be faced with making difficult decisions regarding their patient’s health such as counselling a patient about an unexpected genetic finding.”
Course enrolments to date demonstrate the wide appeal of the topic. Students from 18 to 80 years old have enrolled including those who did not complete high school through to PhDs. Thirty five per cent of participants are based in the USA while 28% are from emerging economies.
The course comprises eight modules delivered through video lectures, readings, quizzes and a series of exercises, including a peer-review of other students’ work. Enrolment in the course is free.
To enrol go to: https://www.coursera.org/course/personalisedmed