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Biotechnology Instructors Teach Osher Students about Personalized Medicine

Genes from genome

Personalized medicine is a hot topic in healthcare.

It’s a topic discussed in Johns Hopkins University biotechnology courses to graduate students.

Now the biotechnology faculty are introducing Osher students to this evolving and emerging area of health.

In February, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offered a new course, Genomics and You: What is Personalized Medicine. Osher is an academic program for retired and semi-retired adults.

The course spans six weeks, and approximately 110 students are enrolled. Each week’s session is taught by a different instructor from the Center for Biotechnology Education. This is the first time biotech faculty have taught an Osher course.

Kris Obom, director of Advanced Academic Programs’ Center for Biotechnology Education, put together the curriculum. Obom, who also directs the bioinformatics program, said she hopes Osher students come away with a better understanding of personalized medicine and a better grasp of what questions to ask a doctor. Upon finishing the course, students should understand what they can and cannot learn from their genome.

The course is the outgrowth of a conversation Obom and Osher Director Mary Kay Shartle Galotto had regarding the success of a course Osher does in conjunction with Suburban Hospital, a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. That course, to be offered for the second time this spring, looks at advances in health research and treatment. Osher students, Shartle Galotto said, aren’t interested in classes about disease management. They’re interested in learning about the disease itself, including new research. The genomics course seemed like a logical complement to the advances in health research and treatment course.

The genomics course “will give them a better sense of the future of medicine,” Shartle Galotto said. “Genetic research will have an impact on their own health but more importantly for their children and grandchildren, who they care about very much.”

The class will be co-taught by:

  • Patrick Cummings, program director of the master’s in biotechnology and senior director for the Center for Biotechnology Education
  • Beatrice Kondo, coordinator of the biotechnology and bioinformatics program and a lecturer for the Center for Biotechnology Education
  • Robert Lessick, associate program director of online education and senior lecturer for the Center for Biotechnology Education
  • Meredith Safford, coordinator of the biotechnology program and lecturer for the Center for Biotechnology Education
  • Roza Selimyan, coordinator of the Health Science Intensive program and lecturer for the Center for Biotechnology Education and
  • Emil Wang, coordinator of the regulatory sciences program and lecturer for the Center for Biotechnology Education.

The common thread through the six-week course is a fictitious patient who will have her genome analyzed. The patient is 75 years old and has a history of skin cancer, smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol and other medical issues. She currently has a chronic cough, acid reflux and chronic anemia and takes several medications.

The first class was an introduction to genetics, molecular biology and personalized medicine. Students got to know the fictitious patient. The second class focuses on genetic testing and an introduction to bioinformatics. Students will explore what happens after a doctor orders these tests and how results are analyzed so they will have a better understanding of genetic sequencing.

The third class focuses on pharmacogenomics, or how genes affect how the body metabolizes drugs. Cancer genomics also will be explored.

In the fourth class, students will learn about other diseases and what the microbiome is and how it affects the patient’s health and response to drugs.

The fifth class will explore the ethical, legal and regulatory aspects of personalized medicine, and questions surrounding personalized medicine. The final class will be a wrap up