Panel: Evolving Genetics Field Holds Promise for Individual, Public Health

Panel: Evolving Genetics Field Holds Promise for Individual, Public Health

There’s no question that the ever-evolving field of genetics will play a large role in health care advances and improvements in the years to come.

Since 2003, when the human genome was first mapped, researchers have made amazing discoveries about how our genes affect our health.

There’s also a lot more to find, said Dr. Caleb Bupp, a clinical geneticist at Spectrum Health, who said people should understand that “there’s a lot we don’t understand.”

With new genes discovered every day, there are more questions than answers, Bupp explained.

A recent panel discussion on human genetics attempted to address what is known and what’s been happening in Michigan in the field. The talk was the focus of the most recent Health Forum of West Michigan, community conversations held the first Friday of every month at Grand Valley State University. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network sponsor the discussions.

Michigan is a leader when it comes to utilizing genetic research to improve public health, said Janice Bach, the state’s genetics coordinator and manager of the genomics and genetic disorders section at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Michigan was the first state to implement informed parental consent for research conducted using blood from infant screenings that happen in a child’s first days. By law, every baby born is tested for over 50 genetic disorders through a simple blood test, with about 270 genetic conditions identified every year through the program. The remaining blood spots are de-identified and used in a multitude of genetic research studies. Read about approved research using Michigan’s blood spots here.

Bach said genomics plays an important role in disease surveillance and risk assessment and early identification of genetic conditions and diseases. Advancements in the field also play an important role when it comes to prevention, management and interventions for high-risk populations.

Dr. Megan Bowman leads the Van Andel Research Institute’s Bioinformatics and Biostatistics Core. Technological advances in genetic data collection and interpretation are allowing researchers to filter through huge amounts of information to find what they’re looking for, which has fundamentally changed how biomedical research is done, she said, and opens exciting new avenues for patients.

For Bupp, genetics are the future of health care, but with any newer innovations, he urges caution and a patient-first mindset. Just because we have the ability to know information about our genetic makeup doesn’t mean it’s always warranted. There can also be thorny ethical and moral issues to consider. In his work, Bupp advises patients of all the potential ramifications of genetic testing before proceeding.

If you’re interested in future Health Forum of West Michigan events, visit their website to register.

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Photo credit: National Human Genome Research Institute

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