The terms sound alike, and they are often used interchangeably. Both play roles in health and disease. But there are some important distinctions between genetics and genomics. Genetics is the study of heredity, of how individual traits — such as red hair or cystic fibrosis — are transmitted from one generation to the next via DNA.
Genomics, in contrast, is more complex. It is the study of the entirety of a person’s genes — called the genome — comprising of about 3 billion units of DNA across 23,000 genes. The study of genomics includes understanding how the genome interacts with environmental or non-genetic factors, such as a person's lifestyle. Genomics has the potential to improve our understanding of complex diseases for which there is no single genetic cause, such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma.
Think of genetics as the fingers to the genome’s hand. They are related and interdependent. They need each other to function properly. Medical genetics and genomics are much like that, both working together to form a greater whole than their collective sums. Patients often need both; clinicians often need both.
To better serve the patients, we’ve decided to bring them together.
The Mayo Clinic Department of Medical Genetics and the Center for Individualized Medicine recently announced the new enterprise-wide Department of Clinical Genomics. The new department reflects the growing interdependence between traditional medical genetics and subspecialty genomic activities as molecular testing becomes more pervasive and affordable.
“This is a progressive acknowledgement of the impact genomics is having across all disciplines,” says Dusica Babovic-Vuksanovic, M.D., chair, Department of Clinical Genomics.
This new department gives Mayo the opportunity to provide the highest value health care to patients through an integrated practice and by meeting unmet needs for medical genetics services in the Jacksonville and Phoenix markets where there is significant demand.
“The creation of this new department is an important step for the Center for Individualized Medicine as we seek to better integrate genomics-enabled health care for our patients,” says Keith Stewart, M.B., Ch.B., the Carlson and Nelson Endowed Director of the Center for Individualized Medicine.
The Department of Clinical Genomics emphasizes support for subspecialty genetics and genomics activities, serving as the clinical arm of Center for Individualized Medicine. The current department includes nine clinical geneticists, twelve genetic counselors, and allied health support staff — across the enterprise. Plans are underway to expand its genetics expertise and resources through targeted staffing in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota.
By establishing an integrated Department of Clinical Genomics across all Mayo Clinic campuses, patients will have better access to both genetics and genomics. They will have access to better information and better care.
Better patient care. That, in the end, is the only reason we need to bring together genetics and genomics.