THE BEAGLE HAS LANDED
Decades have gone by since we were first promised that genetics would revolutionize medicine. At last, in the past 5 years, clinical genetics has turned a corner. The cost of sequencing has fallen to pocket change. Our ability to make sense of that data has benefitted from a decade of experience at scale. Suddenly, genetics is moving out of its niche role and into the mainstream of medicine. Four years ago the Department of Labor Statistics estimated there were 2400 genetic counselors working in the U.S.; today the American Board of Genetic Counseling reports that more than 4000 work in the U.S. and Canada.
Charles Darwin’s ship has come ashore.
For a new field, clinical genetics carries a great deal of history, and not all of it is positive. The specter of eugenics and the weight of past misdeeds foreign and domestic continue to inform practice today. Use of genetics to inform reproductive decision-making raises controversial issues like abortion and trait selection. Additionally, more than other medical fields, genetics is focused on predictive rather than diagnostic information, raising really profound questions for clinicians about what is meaningful and what is required and what is helpful.
Genetic counselors are a growing group with a strong sense of themselves as pioneers, genetics ambassadors, charged with educating both patients and providers about genetics and how it can be used responsibly and ethically. For much of the field, ‘genetic counselor’ is an identity as well as a job.
The Beagle Has Landed will be a forum for this emerging community. This site will feature interviews with leaders in the field of clinical genetics, exploring our complicated past and our rapidly-changing present. Conversations will cover issues in current practice, such as controversial new forms of testing that are profoundly changing the experience of pregnancy for many women, or the introduction of personalized tumor testing as standard of care in oncology. We will look at new roles genetic counselors are playing in industry as well as in clinical settings, and bring in the voices of other stakeholders, including basic scientists and families affected by genetic disease.
The Beagle Has Landed will be the first independent media outlet to focus specifically on genetic counseling.