Traditionally genetic counselors have worked in the clinical setting, meeting with patients to discuss their risk for developing genetic diseases or helping them understand the genetic factors behind their health condition.
With new discoveries about the impact of genetics on health and disease, the many roles that genetic counselors can play continue to expand.
New technologies make genetic testing cheaper and faster, allowing more people to have their DNA sequenced to help diagnose and target treatments for rare diseases, cancer, heart disease and many other conditions. There are more laboratories conducting these genetic tests and generating results that need to be analyzed and interpreted.
“The role of genetic counselors has evolved tremendously over the past two decades” explains Teresa Kruisselbrink, M.S., a genetic counselor in Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine. “Genetic counselors’ training in genetics along with experience in caring for patients allows them to serve in many roles within the laboratory.”
For example, genetic counselors can help physicians determine which genetic tests to order for a patient. “A laboratory may receive a call from a physician who has a patient or family with a unique set of health conditions. Genetic counselors can work with the physician and help identify whether a targeted single gene or broader test, such as whole exome sequencing, should be considered to help diagnose a condition,” explains Kruisselbrink.
Genetic counselors can also help analyze genetic test results, which often include reviewing complex data, to help guide health care decisions. By examining a patient’s medical history and current health condition, genetic counselors can interpret genetic test results and help providers communicate this information back to patients.
Kruisselbrink and colleagues at Mayo Clinic have written a book consolidating information about the theory and practice of genetic counseling in the laboratory setting. The book will serve as a resource for students, current genetic counselors and laboratory personnel.
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You’ll want to save the date for next year’s Individualizing Medicine Conference. It is planned for Oct. 9-11, 2017.