Meet the scientist: genomics, genes and family history

Inside-DNA-100pxRaising awareness of genetics and genomics at Inside DNA exhibition

The Centre and the West Midlands Regional Genetics Service recently joined forces to help raise awareness of genetics and genomics at the Inside DNA exhibition at the Birmingham Science Museum ‘Thinktank’.  The exhibition was open to all members of the public and as it was held over the school half term holiday, it gave us an ideal opportunity to reach the younger generation.  The exhibition enabled us to collect public views on genetics/genomics and let people know about careers available within the field of genetics. 

Each day there was an opportunity to Meet the Scientist’ with sessions which included: 

  • ‘Genomic medicine: the next frontier’ with Professor Alain Li Wan Po
    This session looked at some of the major new developments in genomic medicine.  It looked into drugs such as imatinib, trastuzumab and verumafenib and suggested that they were transforming the outlook for patients with particularly poor prognoses.

 

  • ‘A penny for your genes’ with Dr Peter Lunt
    Discussing the future of genetic testing and whether people would want to know all the information that could be obtained from sequencing their whole genome

 

  • ‘Family history and the X men’ with Tricia Heaton and the team of genetic counsellors
    Using the X-Men to engage with youngsters, this session aimed to improve their understanding of genetic mutations, or alterations.  It explained that not all mutations are harmful; some are beneficial (X-men).  The genetic counsellors also talked about how genetic testing can provide a diagnosis which helps with patient management.

 

  • ‘Magic, wizards and genes’ with Kim Reay and fellow clinical scientists
    Looking at how genes are passed through a family using wizards and muggles as examples.

 Lauren Jones, Clinical Scientist said:  “It was nice to see that our session engaged everyone.  One young adult said that they would have understood genetics much more at school if it had been taught in a more relatable way e.g. like our Harry Potter genetics!” 

 

Visitors also had the opportunity to practice drawing a family history, as they created their own fantasy family with their favourite celebrities; in some cases marrying Mary Berry to Einstein!  There was also time to explore the role of their own genes, challenge their own perceptions of current genome research and have a say in the future policy of a science that will eventually affect their lives.  

One of the most important things to come out of our time at the exhibition was how the general public perceive genetics and genomic information.  We also heard about the concerns that some of the public have about how this information may impact on their health and lives and the implications this may have for health in the future.