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The Impact of the Human Genome Project on Genetic Counseling

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Posted at 3:19 PM, Jun 18, 2024

GREAT FALLS — The completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 marked a monumental achievement in the field of genetics. Twenty-one years later, the advancements from this research are being applied in various medical fields, including one of the most intriguing areas: genetic counseling.

Genetic Counseling: A Blend of Old and New

Betsy Smith, a Genetic Counselor at Benefis, leverages both traditional and modern methods to evaluate an individual's health risks, particularly by examining their family history and genetic predispositions. "The goal of identifying an increased risk for something like cancer is that there may be opportunities for us to intervene and counteract that risk," Betsy explains.

The Power of Family History

Family history has long been a cornerstone of genetic risk assessment. Betsy notes, "Family history was the first genetic test, because obviously, you're gathering information to try to make a risk assessment. Before we had even testing available, gathering family history was a way to assess somebody's risk for getting certain health conditions."

Modern Techniques in Genetic Testing

Today, genetic counseling has advanced with the ability to perform genetic sequencing through blood draws. This allows for a detailed analysis of genetic information. Betsy interprets this data to provide personalized insights for her clients. "When we suspect that cancer in a family has a genetic component, genetic testing is the way we prove that. It can change how you live your life or start treatments before the condition actually presents," she says.

The Role and Future of Genetic Counseling

Genetic counseling is a crucial step in the broader process of utilizing genetic information to improve health outcomes. Betsy is dedicated to making a difference in her community. "The part that I really love about my job is that I get to sit down with individuals and families and really help them to understand. Helping to ease that burden and make it as easy as possible, empowering patients, and getting them connected with resources also really is a way to make a difference in these families," she shares.

The advancements from the Human Genome Project have paved the way for significant strides in genetic counseling. Professionals like Betsy Smith are at the forefront, using genetic information to empower individuals and potentially alter the course of their health for the better.