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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 3, 2003

UI Offers Innovative Program In Public Health Genetics

A new program in public health genetics places the University of Iowa College of Public Health at the forefront of a small number of schools nationwide that offer formal training in the emerging field.

The program, approved in July by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa will prepare students with advanced training in human genetics (the study of inheritance patterns of specific traits) and genomics (the study of genes and their function) to improve health and prevent disease.

"Genetics is a growing and increasingly vital area in public health practice and biomedical research," said James Merchant, Dr.P.H., M.D., dean of the College of Public Health. "We are very proud to offer this innovative program under the guidance of an outstanding faculty."

In addition to courses in public health genetics and informatics, the program offers a Ph.D. in statistical genetics. The degree concentrates on the analysis and interpretation of human medical genetic and genomic data, particularly with regard to major public health concerns such as cancer, heart disease, psychiatric disorders and many others.

"Statistical geneticists are trained to address issues such as, are there genetic susceptibilities to a particular disease?" explained Veronica Vieland, Ph.D., professor and director of the program in public health genetics and professor of psychiatry. "If so, where in the genome are the genes located? Which particular genes are at fault, and how are specific mutations in those genes related to clinical features of disease? What environmental factors are involved? How do the mutations and their relationships to clinical disease vary within and across populations?"

Public health genomics has been identified by Julie Gerberding, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as an area with "profound implications and opportunities for our public health system and the population's health." The field of public health genetics encompasses a wide array of topics, including sequencing the genomes of newly discovered infectious agents as a first step toward controlling them; screening newborns, children and adults for genetic susceptibilities to disease; developing genomically targeted therapies; forming public policy on the privacy of genetic information; and addressing legal and ethical issues surrounding the use of genetic information and the conduct of genetic research.

Along with Vieland, faculty in the program in public health genetics include Professor Trudy Burns, Ph.D.; Assistant Professor Andrew George, Ph.D.; Associate Professor Jian Huang, Ph.D.; Assistant Professor Mark Logue, Ph.D.; and Assistant Professor Kai Wang, Ph.D.

STORY SOURCE: The University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.

MEDIA CONTACT: Debra Venzke, 319-335-9647, debra-venzke@uiowa.edu.