The University Record, September 11, 2000

Meeting on public health implications of human genome work is Sept. 18

By Amy Reyes
News and Information Services

The completion of the human genome sequence was touted by scientists and journalists as one of the most significant scientific achievements in history because scientists succeeded in tracing nearly all of the three billion bits of the human genetic code.

Its completion highlights an effort in public health to address some very important questions that arise from knowing what’s in your genes. How will public policy change? How do we use this information to improve health and prevent disease? Is there a need for genetic counseling? How will life change?

The School of Public Health will host a one-day symposium Sept. 18 that will feature, among other speakers, Francis Collins, who is director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and a U-M faculty member. Collins will deliver the keynote address on “Public Health Genetics in a World Where the Human Sequence Is Known.” With the vast majority of the human genome sequence known, research will uncover the major genetic susceptibility factors for most common illnesses in the next five to seven years. It will create a way to measure the risk of illness and will lead to preventive medicine. Collins will discuss these and other issues.

The symposium will be followed by the National Conference on Genetics and Disease Prevention, a two-day meeting of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), National Human Genome Research Institute, Michigan Department of Community Health, and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. The meetings will take place at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre in the Michigan League.

Talks scheduled for the Sept. 18 public health symposium include:

  • “Genetics and Public Health in the 21st Century: A Scientific Foundation for Using Genetic Information to Improve Health and Prevent Disease.” Muin J. Khoury, director of the CDC’s Office of Genetics and Disease Prevention, will describe recent CDC collaborative initiatives in conducting population research on human genome epidemiology, developing a national genetic testing assessment program, and conducting policy and communication research in genetics and public health.

  • “Genetics in Public Health Education: An Interdepartmental Concentration in Public Health Genetics.” Patricia Peyser, professor of epidemiology and director, Public Health Genetics Interdepartmental Concentration, will discuss the U-M’s interdisciplinary approach to the curriculum.

  • “Genetics and Health Promotion: Access to Genetic Resources and Services.” Michele Lloyd-Puryear, chief of genetic services of the HRSA’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau, will discuss how genetics can help health care professionals better understand the disease process, tailor therapies through pharmacogenomics and improve screening.

  • “Genetics and the Community.” How will the community react to the increasing application of genetics in public health programs? Pilar Ossorio, assistant professor of law and medical ethics at the University of Wisconsin Law School, will discuss concerns of racial and ethnic minorities and the need to involve the community in policy making.

  • “Is There a Pink Slip in My Genes? Genetic Discrimination in the Workplace.” Paul S. Miller, a commissioner with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, will address the growing concerns about genetic discrimination in the workplace and suggest possible methods for addressing discrimination. He will discuss workers’ fears and the reality of genetic discrimination in employment, as well as the application of existing federal statutes, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, state statutes and the limited amount of case law in this area.

  • Other topics include “Genetics and the Media,” “Gene Therapy on Trial,” “Genetic Counseling: Myths and Realities,” “Genetics Law and Policy,” and “Role of Genetics in Public Health Prevention Programs.”

    The School of Public Health’s Interdepartmental Concentration in Public Health Genetics was initiated in 1996. The program’s faculty were responsible for organizing the symposium, coordinating with the Michigan Department of Community Health. An important feature of the symposium is the role that public health students in the concentration will play as symposium moderators.

    The symposium is dedicated to Hunein (John) Massaab, professor of epidemiology and former chair of the Department of Epidemiology. Massaab has used genetics to develop a flu vaccine that is administered nasally and can be quickly adapted to fight the most current strain of flu.

    The conference will be broadcast on the Web at www.sph.umich.edu/symposium/.

    To register for the national conference, visit the CDC Web site, www.cdc.gov/genetics/courses/conf3.htm.

    Registration for the School of Public Health Symposium, $50, will be at the door.