Human Genetics academic program


Published: 26Apr1999

Human/Medical Genetics now a full-fledged academic program at McGill

"Genes are the inherited chemicals (the units of DNA) that tell a cell and its descendents what shape to take and how to behave." *

"The proposed M.Sc. and Ph.D. programs in Human Genetics were judged to be of such exceptional quality that the members of the program committee of the Quebec Ministère de l’Éducation (MEQ) recommended in unison that the MEQ break the April 1997 moratorium on allocations of start-up funding of new programs. This is why, Mme Marois announced, last December, that the MEQ has allocated the 150 000$ start up funding to the new program, says with pride Dr Abraham Fuks, Dean of the McGill Faculty of Medicine." We now have to collect the extra funding needed to hire a third professor of bioinformatics."

"Human Genetics is the study of human genes: their composition, their transmission, and the way they act to determine hereditary variation among healthy humans." *

"The whole program’s focus on the steps to be developed after the discovery of a gene is what enthused the members of CREPUQ (Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities) and the Department of Education program committees," explains Dr Leonard Pinsky, Chair of the McGill Department of Human Genetics. "How do we store and access the information that is coming from all these gene discoveries? How do we match the environmental factors with the specific genes in order to find out an answer to the eternal question: ’Why does this person suffer from this disease at this time?’ As more genes are discovered every day, the constitutional aspects of illness are becoming very clear, and McGill researchers are at the forefront of their unveiling."

"Genetics disease includes all those departures from optimum health that are caused directly by mutant genes, or that result from exposure to harmful environments in persons born with genetic predisposition(s) - genes dispose; environments expose." *

If there was a medical discipline hidden in the McGill curricula, like a gene in its DNA unit, it was indeed human and medical genetics. Until it became a department of the Faculty of Medicine in 1993, graduate students in Human Genetics registered in Biology, Psychiatry, Neurology & Neurosurgery, Experimental Medicine, Surgery or Pathology and thus received their M.Sc. or Ph.D. degree from one of these departments. "Now, graduate students in Human Genetics will be getting their degrees from a Department of Human Genetics. And when our graduates write their letters of job application, it will be obvious that their training was in a department devoted to human genetics. Furthermore," emphasized DrPinsky, "with the explosive growth of genetics in all branches of medicine, it became apparent to everyone that graduate students should be trained entirely within the discipline of human/medical genetics."

"Medical Genetics is the application of human genetic knowledge for the purpose of diagnosing, avoiding, preventing, treating and curing genetic disease." *

Therefore, in 1993, the Department of Human Genetics was created to supplant the McGill Centre for Human Genetics in order to: a) provide the administrative supra-structure to recruit and support a group of world-class researchers in human/medical genetics; b) pursue the Centre’s role of coordinating teaching and research activities throughout the University, including Genetic Health-Care among teaching hospitals; c) offer a graduate training program leading to M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees; d) offer an introductory course in Medical Genetics to Phase II medical students, and appropriate teaching of the Practice of Genetics to physicians in postgraduate training or continuing medical education; e) participate in the teaching of undergraduate human genetics courses within the Department of Biology.