Friday, May 24, 2013

Celebrating five years, together

We recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of HudsonAlpha, and we're excited to see what the future holds. HudsonAlpha's president and director, Dr. Rick Myers, shares highlights of the past five years and his hopes for the future. We hope you'll enjoy reading Dr. Myers' thoughts as well as perusing some photographs from our anniversary celebration. We look forward to serving the Madison County community for years to come. 

Dear Friends,

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, the brainchild of founders Jim Hudson and Lonnie McMillian, opened its doors in 2008. The passion of these serial entrepreneurs to make the world a better place through genomic and genetic discoveries and applications has flourished in the five years since we started together, evidenced by the institute’s multifaceted growth.

I share Lonnie’s and Jim’s passion. The elation I feel for how far we’ve come in making a positive difference is eclipsed only by the excitement I have for what’s ahead. Genomic research, educational outreach and economic development; each of these mission areas is a precursor to advancing quality of life. Together, they are powerfully synergistic and at HudsonAlpha.

Progress has many measures. By sheer numbers, I can point to an expanding research team. We have added four faculty investigators running research and discovery laboratories since they institute’s debut, bringing us to a total of 10 faculty. Our educational outreach programs have expanded dramatically and have begun to have a major impact throughout the state and the whole country. We now have more than doubled the number of for-profit companies on our biotech campus since our opening ceremonies and additional companies are ramping up.

By many accounts, HudsonAlpha has made a mark on the world. Successfully competing for research initiatives in a highly competitive funding environment; continuing work on milestone projects like the ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements, multiple cancer and treatment response studies, brain and heart disease projects and many others, all of which strive to identify genomic pathways of health and disease; filing patents for knowledge emerging from HudsonAlpha labs; advising leading technology companies on improving processes and productivity in data and knowledge acquisition; weighing in on how to advance science achievement in schools and shore up the nation’s workforce pipeline. These only skim the surface of a broader, deeper collective resource pool that beckons scientists, educators and business professionals.

Each institute and campus resident offers valuable insight, skills, opinions, questions and answers. Your questions also have great value. When I noted that it has been five years since we started, you are included. The passion to execute research, education and economic development activities on behalf of public good is inextricably linked to widespread understanding of benefits. As a nation, defending research investment equates to defending the health and livelihood of its citizenry. The evidence continues to mount that great benefits are ahead.

Want to learn more? Ask. Share the news. Spread the passion. Feel the excitement of scientific discovery and help make a positive difference.

You’re invited to participate. Please join us!

With warmest regards,

Rick Myers

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

So, you counsel my genes?

HudsonAlpha recently highlighted the challenges faced by many local families who are living with childhood genetic disorders. Kelly East, a genetic counselor at HudsonAlpha, shares why the project is so valuable and further explains the role of a genetic counselor.

When I tell people I’m a genetic counselor, I’m often met with a blank stare. When someone does respond, it often includes one of the following questions: 

1.     “You tell people whether they should have children?” Or 
2.    “So…you counsel my genes?” 

No, we neither counsel people’s genes (whatever that even means), nor do we tell couples whether they should have children. We are not in the family planning business. Genetic counselors work with individuals or families who either have, or may be at risk for, a genetic condition. We provide our patients with information about the features of a particular genetic condition and potential treatment and screening options. We discuss the cause of the condition, whether it can be inherited in a family and explain available testing options and results. The information and support provided by the genetic counselor greatly varies based on the reason for genetic counseling and the needs of the particular patient.

We are educators and supporters and help our patients understand complex genetic risk information so they can make decisions that are in line with their cultural and familial beliefs. Sometimes these decisions are extremely difficult with no apparent “good” solution. We’re not physicians so we don’t diagnose ailments, nor do we prescribe medications. However, we often work very closely with physicians and aid in the diagnostic process.

Genetic counselors have traditionally worked in prenatal, pediatric and cancer genetics clinics. However, genetic counselors have valuable knowledge and skills that may be applied in a variety of settings. It’s becoming more and more common for genetic counselors to work outside of the traditional clinic. These expanded roles include adult medicine, research, public health, education, industry and public policy. As science and medicine learn more about the impact of genetics on common diseases like heart disease, diabetes and macular degeneration, there will be a growing need for genetic counselors working in adult medicine and primary care.

Sound interesting?  

I was a junior in college before I heard about genetic counseling as a possible career choice.  I was on a pre-medicine track, but in the back of my mind, worried medicine was not the right field. For me, genetic counseling is the perfect marriage of genetics, medicine and education.

Genetic counselors are health care professionals with specialized master’s degrees in genetic counseling. Most genetic counseling programs are two years in length with the first year being a combination of coursework and clinical experience and the second year consisting largely of supervised clinical rotations. My best advice for those considering genetic counseling as a career would be to get a good foundation in biology and genetics, and then get out there – volunteer with support groups, help with community events, shadow genetic counselors – figure out for yourself if genetic counseling is the right career choice for you.

For more information about what a genetic counselor is, or to find a genetic counselor near you, visit the National Society of Genetic Counselors website. You can find a list of the accredited programs by visiting the American Board of Genetics website or learn about other genetic fields of interest here

Kelly East is a board-certified genetic counselor with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and a master’s degree in genetic counseling from Auburn and UNC – Greensboro, respectively. Kelly is part of the educational outreach department at HudsonAlpha. Working with patients and the public, helping them to understand the impact of genetics on health and disease, is one of her favorite parts of being a genetic counselor.