Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)

Sunday, January 14, 2007: 8:45 AM-10:15 AM
Pacific C (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
Genetics for Social Workers: A Primer on Physiological and Psychosocial Issues in Genetic Research and Practice
Speakers/Presenters:Sarah Gehlert, PhD, University of Chicago
Julianne S. Oktay, PhD, University of Maryland at Baltimore
Deborah Schild, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Allison Werner-Lin, PhD, New York University
Abstract Text:
For the past four decades social workers have been actively involved in carving out a niche for themselves in the field of genetics. Recent advances in mapping the human genome have considerably altered the face of genetic medicine. This has opened doors for research that addresses these new discoveries, highlighting the interplay between genetic mechanisms and environmental factors, the psychosocial experience of genetic testing and genetic disease, and ethical and policy implications of a new science. To conduct ethically-sound research that will inform both practice and policy, social workers must learn about the biology of the human genome, become proficient in the language of genetics, and be familiar with psychosocial, ethical, and policy implications of genetic medicine. This workshop aims to address this growing need by providing social workers with the opportunity to learn from pioneers conducting research on the front lines. The workshop will begin with an introduction to basic medical genetics, including important terms, models of inheritance, and the history of social work's involvement in genetics. Participants will then learn about the strengths and challenges of integrating genetic knowledge into social work research and practice, using hereditary breast and ovarian cancer to illustrate main points. Research and practice issues will be illustrated with a presentation of completed and ongoing qualitative and mixed-method research projects addressing aspects of genetic testing and gene expression for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. These projects present findings concerning (1) genetic counselors' perceptions of clients' psychosocial needs before and after testing; (2) women's experience with genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer mutations, BRCA1 and BRCA2, (3) the meaning of family histories with cancer for young women's family development following BRCA, and (4) the role of environmental factors in facilitating or inhibiting gene expression. The workshop will conclude with a discussion of recent policy developments and a presentation of resources for social workers interested in pursuing research and practice in genetics.

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