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Genomics, Bioethics and Public Policy

Course Number
5100 (Social and Behavioural Health Science)
Course Instructor(s)
Abdallah S. Daar

Course Description

  • The course will be taught in twelve sessions, each session lasting three hours, (36 hours in total).
  • Genomics is expected to have a major impact on the way we conceptualize, prevent, diagnose and manage diseases, and promote health. Research and development of genome-related biotechnologies for health are accompanied by massive investments not only by industries but also by national governments as part of their strategies to promote innovation. As this field evolves there is a need for society to develop appropriate norms and frameworks to ensure that the complex social, ethical and economic issues of genomics are addressed. This should be done as early as possible, ideally as the technologies develop, and before applications based on the technologies have been marketed and introduced into health care systems. The course will address the main bioethical and public policy issues associated with genomics and health biotechnology development. It will discuss the current status of genomics science, genomics and biotechnology innovation systems, intellectual property rights, law and policy issues relating to genomics development, genomics and public health, public engagements, genomics and diversity, regenerative medicine, genomics databases and the ethics of genomics in global context where important emerging principles such as benefit sharing will be discussed.
  • The course is designed to encourage active involvement by participants. Class sessions will use a variety of learning methods including lectures, discussions and case analysis. To encourage active participation, the course will create a peer-learning environment in which participants learn with and from each other, in addition to learning from material presented by instructors.  Reading materials will be provided in advance. As the literature in these fields grows rapidly the proposed reading list will be updated just before the course starts and essential readings will be identified in advance of each session.

Course Objectives

  • To familiarize participants with the current status and implications of health genomics/biotechnology, and to provide information relevant to public policy.
  • To provide frameworks for analyzing and debating the policy issues and related ethical questions. This will help students understand, anticipate and possibly influence emerging legal and regulatory frameworks, both nationally and internationally.
  • Final grade will be based on:
    • Short paper assignment – approximately 1000 words =20% of final grade. It should be written in the form of a commentary presenting an argument on an issue covered by the course. The students will be advised on how to access samples of commentaries upon which to base their assignments. The topic will be identified and chosen by the students;
    • Short presentation – approximately 10 minutes long, given at the end of the course on the topic of the long paper assignment =20% of final grade;
    • Long paper assignment – approximately 4000 words =50% of final grade. The paper should be in the form of a research paper, citing relevant literature on a topic related to the course. The topic will be identified and chosen by the students;
    • Class participation =10%, based on participation in the sessions of the course.  Students will further be required to comment on specific readings.
  • The criteria applied for grading the assignments and presentations will be comprised of the following components:
    • the structure of the main arguments;
    • the extent and relevance of the cited literature; and
    • the ability of the student to communicate clearly the subject matter.
  • The criteria for grading class participation will be based on:
    • active involvement in class discussion;
    • demonstrated comprehension of reading material;
    • expressed insight into the topics covered

Experts will be invited to lead some sessions of the course but the co-directors will be responsible for student evaluation.

General Requirements