Professional Society of Genetic Counselors in Asia opens at APCHG 2015

by Ryan Pascual (Regulon)


The launch of PSGCA. Pro Tem President
Ms. Mercy Laurino.
(Photo: DLSternen/MLaurino)
Last September 2015, the Professional Society of Genetic Counselors in Asia (PSGCA) was launched at the 11th Asia-Pacific Conference in Human Genetics (APCHG) held in Hanoi, Viet Nam. The 11th APCHG was organized by the National Hospital of Pediatrics - Viet Nam and the Asia-Pacific Society of Human Genetics.

The PSGCA launch was part of the Genetic Counseling pre-conference workshop organized by the PSGCA and the Global Health Genetics Group. The workshop was attended by genetic counselors, genetic counseling students, clinical geneticists and allied health professionals interested in the field of genetic counseling in the Asian region. It covered current clinical genetic counseling services and research opportunities, availability of genetic counseling training programs, and on-going developments to establish new programs.

According to PSGCA President Pro Tempore Ms. Mercy Laurino, "...the participants at the genetic counseling pre-conference shared how they would evaluate and provide genetic counseling for patients with hereditary conditions and their family members. It was evident from the breakout session that there is an urgent need for [producing] best practice “culturally relevant” genetic counseling guidelines, and [addressing] the current lack of resources/unequal access of genetic counseling services within and between count[r]ies". Reports on the current status of genetic counseling training and services in 10 countries were also presented during the workshop.[1] 

What is Genetic Counseling?

The US-based organization, National Society of Genetic Counselors defines genetic counseling as "a process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to diseases." [2,3] Nowadays, genetic counseling services are found to be useful at all stages of development - from newborn screening, to the assessment of an individual's genetic predisposition, and the planning of a first pregnancy [4].

The role played by genetic counselors is more than drawing pedigrees in an attempt to clarify the genetic components of a health condition. According to the World Health Organization, "a genetic counselor provides information on the inheritance of illnesses and their recurrence risks; addresses the concerns of patients, their families, and their health care providers; and supports patients and their families on dealing with an illness." Furthermore, the  advent of next generation genomic sequencing technologies has increased the role of genetic counselors - both in scope and importance [4].

As a fully recognized health profession, genetic counseling is relatively new and evolving. Aside from the traditional hospital setting, genetic counselors can work in various fields: education, administration, policy-making, industry, and research [4].  At present, qualifications, roles and expectations, certification, and licensing of genetic counselors may vary among countries [5].


The PSGCA




The Professional  Society of Genetic Counselors in Asia (PSGCA) is a special interest group of the Asia Pacific Society of Human Genetics. The PSGCA promotes quality genetic counseling services in Asia by fostering practice and curricular standards, research and continuing education. It was envisioned to contribute to the expansion of the knowledge base for genetic counselors through collaborative research, as well as actively participate in developing culturally appropriate policies as genomic technologies are incorporated in population-based and clinic-based health care delivery systems [6].

Specifically, the PSGCA aims to expand access and delivery of quality genetic counseling services in Asia; foster partnership among Asian countries for genetic counseling student didactic training, clinical rotation opportunities and ensuring quality training programs by maintaining standards; promote genetic counseling research; participate in policy development; and ensure professional development and continuing education opportunities for genetic counselors practicing in Asia.

During its launch, the PSGCA Pro Tempore Leadership were as follows:
President: Mercy Laurino, MSc, CGC, LGC (Philippines/USA)
Vice-President: Juliana Lee, MHSc, CGC (Malaysia)
Secretary: Breana Cham, MHSc (Singapore)
Treasurer: Sahil Kejriwal, MS (India)
Director for Communications: Yoyo Wing Yiu Chu, MGC (Hong Kong)
Director for Membership: Peter James Abad, RN, MSc (Philippines)


Officers pro tempore of the newly launched Professional Society of Genetic Counselors in Asia, a special interest society of the Asia-Pacific Society of Human Genetics.
Posted by Peter James Abad on Wednesday, September 16, 2015


According to an APSHG release, the participants attending the workshop would comprise the PSGCA's inaugural membership. The more than 90 participants of the said pre-conference workshop represented 12 countries. In the near future, the PSGCA anticipates establishing partnerships with existing professional societies such as the Australasian Society of Genetic Counselors [1]


Pinay Trailblazer: Ms. Mercy Laurino

Ms. Mercy Laurino, MSc, CGC
Photo: APCHG 2015
Prof. Mercy Laurino is a certified and licensed genetic counselor. For several years, she collaborated with the medical geneticists in the Philippines which led to the successful launch of the master’s degree program in genetic counseling at the University of the Philippines Manila in 2011. She currently resides in Seattle and manages the cancer prevention program at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and soon to defend her doctorate degree in Public Health Genetics at the University of Washington. She periodically travels to the Philippines to forward initiatives regarding the genetic counseling program as well as provide student oversight and online lectures throughout the year.

She is also a DOST Balik Scientist Program (BSP) awardee for Genetic Counseling (DOST BSP 2012, 2103, 2014). Furthermore, she represents the Philippines as a member of the Transnational Alliance of Genetic Counselors​ and her professional commitment is to partner with local health care providers in developing countries to establish their own genetic counseling programs.

Prof. Laurino also started an online fundraiser for the formation of a "Philippine Genetic Counselor Foundation" which will be instrumental for travel awards, research fellowship, genetic counseling service implementation, and student support (e.g. tuition, housing etc.). This foundation will be helpful in boosting nationwide recruitment, and assisting the training of genetic counseling students and professionals in the Philippines (https://www.gofundme.com/Philippine-GC-Foundation).

She also shared her personal account of the development and launch of the UP MS Genetic Counseling (MSGC) program through her blog (mercylivelife.blogspot.com): "A Dream Fulfilled: The Philippines’ Master of Science in Genetic Counseling Program." The article was first published in Perspectives in Genetic Counseling in 2012, and it launched the journal's Global Genetics column [7].

UP MS Genetic Counseling students
with Dr. Padilla and Ms. Laurino

Photo: RGuerbo
Genetic Counseling Training in the Philippines

The pioneer training program on genetic counseling in the Philippines is hosted by the University of the Philippines College of Medicine and it started to fill its first cohort in AY 2011-2012. This was after the UP Board of Regents' approval of the MS Genetic Counseling curriculum in January 2011 [3].

The UP MSGC program was created to train health care providers to become crucial members of medical genetics teams being formed to meet increasing patient and healthcare provider demands. According to a 2012 review [8] by Dr. Carmencita Padilla and Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco-de la Paz, only eight trained geneticists are serving the Filipino population of approximately 94 million individuals and this makes the medical geneticist to population density ratio of about 1:11,751,625. Hence, the MSGC program has a vital role in expanding medical genetics services in the country.  [3,9].

Training genetic counselors would also provide the needed manpower for the implementation and expansion of public health genetics--related programs such as the National Comprehensive Newborn Screening Program, Birth Defects Surveillance Project, Telegenetics Referral System, and the Philippine Genome Center [3].

Along with its launch in 2011, a "sister program" relationship was established between the Stanford University genetic counseling program and the newly initiated UP Manila MSGC program. In the announcement of the partnership in a 2012 article, it was noted that "the collaboration was meant to enhance genetic counseling training by allowing mentorship between an established and a new program, and to promote cross-cultural awareness for all involved. A bi-monthly video case conference is scheduled for students and faculty members to share challenging genetic counseling cases, with a focus on both medical management and psycho-social issues."[10]

The program was further described in a 2013 paper [9] wherein the authors, Laurino and Padilla,  expressed their hope that the UP-MSGC program can be an example for future MSGC programs in other low- and middle-income countries. 

The Philippine APCHG2015 delegation . MSGC students attend the
Genetic Counseling Pre-conference Workshop together with
geneticists from the National Institutes of Health, UP Manila.
Photo: EJJover

Interested applicants of the MS Genetic Counseling Program in UP Manila may connect to the UP Manila-National Graduate Office and Health Sciences (NGOHS) website for more information: http://ngohs.upm.edu.ph/ or visit the Institute of Human Genetics - NIH, UP Manila website. (http://ihg.upm.edu.ph)

Check the MS Genetic Counseling Program Brochure.

For questions about the program or the application process, pls. contact the program directly. Applicants are also welcome to contact Ms. Mercy Laurino (mercy.laurino@gmail.com).


TRIVIA: Here are some interesting facts...
  • The Heredity Clinic was the first genetic counselling service center established in 1940 at the University of Michigan, USA [4]. 
  • Sheldon C. Reed, American geneticist and director of the Dight Institute of Human Genetics, University of Minnesota coined the term "genetic counseling" in 1947 [3,5].
  • The first formal graduate program for educating genetic counselors was established in the United States in 1969 at Sarah Lawrence College in New York [5]. 
________________
The profiles of the Pro Tempore leadership of the PSGCA are accessible through the Pre-Conference website.

[1] Laurino, Mercy. The Professional Society of Genetic Counselors in Asia. Posted in the APSHG website (October 2015) [PDF]

[2] Resta, Robert, Barbara Bowles Biesecker, Robin L. Bennett, Sandra Blum, Susan Estabrooks Hahn, Michelle N. Strecker, and Janet L. Williams. "A new definition of genetic counseling: National Society of Genetic Counselors’ task force report." Journal of Genetic Counseling 15, no. 2 (2006): 77-83. [PDF]

[3] Laurino, Mercy, Carmencita Padilla, Maria Melanie Alcausin, Catherine Lynn Silao and Eva Maria Cutiongco-de la Paz. "A Master of Science in Genetic Counseling Program in the Philippines." Acta Medica Philippina (The National Health Sciences Journal) 45 no. 4 (2011):7-9 [PDF]

[4] World Health Organization (WHO). Genetic Resource Center "Genetic Counseling Services". http://www.who.int/genomics/professionals/counselling/en/.  Accessed 23 October 2015.

[5] Covington, Sharon N., and Linda Hammer Burns, eds. Infertility counseling: A comprehensive handbook for clinicians. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

[6] Genetic Counseling Pre-Conference Workshop. 11th Asia-Pacific Conference in Human Genetics (Vietnam). https://apchg2015.org/genetic-counseling-a46.html. Accessed 23 October 2015.

[7] Laurino, Mercy. "A Dream Fulfilled: The Philippines’ Master of Science in Genetic Counseling Program". Perspectives in Genetic Counseling 34, no. 1 (2012) [PDF]

[8] Padilla, Carmencita David, and Eva Maria Cutiongco de la Paz. "Genetic services and testing in the Philippines." Journal of Community Genetics 4, no. 3 (2013): 399-411. [PDF]

[9] Laurino, Mercy Ygona, and Carmencita David Padilla. "Genetic counseling training in the Philippines." Journal of Genetic Counseling 22, no. 6 (2013): 865-868. [PDF]

[10] Ormond, Kelly, Louanne Hudgins, Mercy Laurino, and Carmencita Padilla. "A New “Sister Genetic Counseling ProgramPartnership between Stanford University and the University of the Philippines, Manila". Perspectives in Genetic Counseling 34, no. 1 (2012) [PDF]

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