Lombardi, McCourt Launch Genomics Course

Beth Peshkin, professor of oncology and senior genetic counselor at Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, will be teaching a new course titled “Genomics, Precision Medicine and Public Policy” at the McCourt School of Public Policy in the spring of 2016.

The course aims to help students gain relevant perspectives both as specialists in and consumers of 21st century genomic medicine. It will be open to all graduate and law students as well as undergraduate upperclassmen.

Registration is capped at 10 students and all necessary background science information will be taught in class.

Peshkin views this course as a natural continuation after years of teaching the ethics of genetics and genomics. Peshkin believes the topic is relevant because of its growing prevalence, especially in light of President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative announced January 2015, which allocated $215 million of the President’s 2016 budget to precision medicine research.

“Directed consumer testing is a big issue now,” Peshkin said. “A lot of people have heard about it for ancestry testing or to learn more about health and disease risks so there are lots of questions. That’s a really hot public policy issue in terms of how much that should be regulated because the ethical concern on the other end is that people’s freedom or autonomy could be impaired if these over-the-counter or direct-to-consumer tests are overly regulated.”

Peshkin emphasized that the course seeks to inform students of the personal context surrounding precision medicine.

“I think we maybe don’t even know all the ways that we may become consumers of personalized medicine,” Peshkin said. “Probably all of us, when we were newborns, we were tested for severe genetic diseases so that’s where it started and then in our reproductive years, we may choose to learn more about traits that we may carry and pass down on to our children.”

Peshkin also noted the significance of genomics for patients suffering from cancer or neurological diseases.

“A genetic makeup may help us to get more tailored treatments so that we have a better outcome from the disease or better survival,” Peshkin said. “Working at the cancer center, this is something we hear a lot about too, so I know that it’s going on right at our hospital and our university. I think I have found that students find this topic really interesting.”

Elizabeth Poggi (GRD ’16) and Antoinette Cordova (GRD ’15) are both former students of Peshkin and expressed optimism about the upcoming course.

“What I really admire most about [her] as a professor is that you can tell that she is incredibly passionate about the subject that she teaches and she is very knowledgeable about it,” Poggi said. “The classroom discussion was dynamic and engaging and it really helped to think about the context of the course as it related to your entire life, not just what you needed to do to complete one assignment or would get you the best grade.”

Cordova highlighted how Peshkin allowed students to explore topics that may not otherwise have been examined in depth.

“I think sometimes it’s very easy for people to gloss over what’s actually happening and instead of critically thinking about what is right in the situation,” Cordova said. “That’s sometimes really abstract, it’s not so clear. It was so great in her course because she allowed us to discuss that.”

Poggi is currently taking a similar interdisciplinary course in the School of Nursing and Health Studies and spoke of its advantages.

“I’ve found that those types of courses that really link an entire issue across multiple fields tend to be those that you learn the most from,” Poggi said. “The classroom discussion is thought-provoking and helps you understand the problems from multiple different perspectives. Instead of approaching the problem from one side, you see not only how it impacts the business point of view, but also how it impacts the science and moving clients forward.”

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