Public health in the genomics era

At our recent masterclass, speakers and participants explored the benefits and challenges that genomics will bring to the public health arena

At the end of November, the programme joined forces with the HEE West Midlands Public Health Practitioner Development Scheme to host a masterclass focusing on genomics and its implications for public health.

Chaired by the GEP’s scientific director, Dr Anneke Seller, the event featured expert speakers from both the genomics and public health fields, as well as several workshops where participants were asked to consider where and how genomics might impact their practice and to identify benefits and potential challenges that genomics will bring.

Setting the scene for the day

Genomics England’s Dr Tom Fowler, who has a background in public health, opened by giving an overview of whole genome sequencing. He described the 100,000 Genomes Project and how genomics will facilitate more precise diagnoses in the future, with personalised medicine leading to more targeted and effective interventions. He emphasised how genomics is driving current thinking around prevention, and is to be incorporated within the overall public health approach to tackling the wider determinants of health.

The talks following provided key background information for the day, with Joanne Mason looking at next generation sequencing technologies and Prof Nick Loman describing the vital role that genomics played in tackling the Ebola outbreak, and the future role of genomics in addressing acute microbial resistance.

Testing and ethics

After some group activities, Annette McHugh gave an update on non-invasive prenatal testing for Down’s, Edwards’ & Patau’s syndromes, before the final talk of the day from Prof Anneke Lucassen. Prof Lucassen covered some of the fascinating ethical issues that are coming to the fore as genomic medicine is being implemented, before asking attendees to consider ethical scenarios, which generated lively debate and showed the complexity of ethical issues in the genomics era.

Feedback and further information

The masterclass attracted over 100 attendees from a range of organisations across the country. Early feedback from the day has been extremely positive with many feeling more familiar with genomics and invigorated by the day:

“Good introduction to subject – interesting case studies which bought the subject to life! Very interesting day.”

“Learnt lots of new information and good discussion around the table.”

Each of the talks was filmed, and these films will shortly be available on our Vimeo channel as part of an online course, with certificates of completion provided once all videos have been viewed.

For those who want to learn more, there is a podcast available featuring Dr Anneke Seller and Dr Tom Fowler:

For information on future Public Health Practitioner masterclasses in the West Midlands, contact Sally James.