Public health and genetics; fields to exploit
There’s this belief that the cause of diseases can be divided in two: genetic or environmental. When it comes to heritability of the disease, there is a chromosomal or genetic alteration; this does not mean the disease was inherited from the parents, but a new mutation or chromosomal alteration occurred on a gene of the egg or sperm from one of the progenitors.
It’s frequently mentioned that genetics is a risk factor for a bunch of disease, but knowing that having a high risk of suffering from a disease is not actually useful, unless there are known, proved, and acceptable treatments to diminish said risk. An individual can have a higher genetic risk or be more susceptible to other risk factors than others. On an article an example is mentioned: in the last decades, an increase of incidence and younger aged diagnoses have been observed on diabetes type 1 on people with HLA class II genotypes of lower risk, but not on those with higher risk genotype with incidence and age constant on the diagnose.
For those people it is important to consider gene – gene and gene – environment interactions. These two scenarios have different implications. Researchers conclude that epidemiological studies must be performed on people with high or higher genetic risk as it can play an important role on precise prevention and personalized medicine.
Genetics provide an important source of information that epidemiologists and other specialists can use to improve health. The Centers for Control and Disease Prevention gathered up the Office of Public Health Genomics, with the aim to provide relevant information on findings based on genome to public health and medical assistance.
There are many challenges on the public health and genetics fields; however, genetic counselors have endeavored to pioneer both fields. It may seem that genetics and public health are a no match, but these specialists have focused on genome (often individual), and understanding and influence on the psychology of the general population. This area is closely related to genetic science and data gathering using psychosocial approaches and community health strategies.
People involved in this area have to constantly innovate, use persuasion and education, and improve their scientific experience, as well as their political abilities to progress and close the breach between these two apparently different fields.
Public health genetics give potential opportunities to develop alternative services models, like videoconferences or telemedicine, public messages campaigns, and population detection to not have the need to make an appointment with a specialist in genetics.
Understanding the intersection of genetic information with the beliefs and behaviors of health and their subsequent effect on the efforts of risk reductions is ever more important for genetic counselors that work with individuals and populations that deal with these common conditions.
Reviewers: Brenda Giselle Alvarez Rodriguez (Public Health Research Unit), and Cassandra Saldaña Pineda (Knowledge Management Unit).
- Article: “Genetics for population and public health”. Int J Epidemiol. 2017 Feb; 46(1): 8–11.
- Article: “Introduction to the Special Issue: Public Health Genetics and Genomics”. Journal of Genetic Counseling. June 2015, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 375–380