Jobs Involving DNA

Medical Ghostwriting

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted September 11, 2009 in Jobs Involving DNA

Guess I won’t be making this my next career move….ghost

In the scientific literature, ghostwriting usually refers to medical writers, often sponsored by a drug or medical device company, who make major research or writing contributions to articles published under the names of academic authors.

The concern, the researchers said, is that the work of industry-sponsored writers has the potential to introduce bias, affecting treatment decisions by doctors and, ultimately, patient care.

Ghostwriting Widespread in Medical Journals, Study Says –

In February 2009, PLoS Medicine featured a debate on the same topic:

What should be done to tackle ghostwriting in the medical literature?

Given that I’ve lived in Asia for most of the past 10 years (with the exception of 2+ years in the UK), I know firsthand how important ghostwriters and editors are for researchers whose first language is not English. I don’t think the issue is whether ghostwriters or medical writers should or should not be allowed to help researchers formulate grammatical sentences and put together coherent papers. Ethical issues arise when the ghostwriters are paid for by pharmaceutical companies or others with a vested interest in seeing particular results. Therefore, the requirement that authors declare competing interests should be adequate disclosure that applies to all listed in the paper where case ghost/medical writers could be listed in the acknowledgements.

Maybe I’ll keep my options open after all….

via The Tree of Life



Interview with Navigenics Genetic Counseling Program Director Elissa Levin

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 8, 2008 in DNA Testing, Jobs Involving DNA, Personalities with DNA

Personal genomics company Navigenics will be hosting DNANYC in New York City starting today. The event runs from April 8 through April 17 and is meant to “celebrate the promise of genetic health.” Navigenics is now open for business and you can become a “member” for $2, 500 including first year’s subscription. The subsequent ongoing subscription rate is $250 per year.

From the press release:

Navigenics, a privately held personalized health services company, today launched Navigenics(TM) Health Compass, a new service that combines a genetic health assessment with the latest discoveries in science and medicine as well as genetic counseling. The service gives individuals information on their chances of developing up to 18 common conditions, so that with their physicians, they can obtain earlier diagnosis, delay onset or prevent the conditions altogether.

elissa levinIt’s a great pleasure today to share my interview with Elissa Levin, Navigenics Genetic Counseling Program Director. I’ve known Elissa since her days at DNA Direct and I think you’ll agree that her enthusiasm and knowledge of the genetic testing industry make her uniquely qualified.

Hsien Lei: At Eye on DNA, I regularly receive emails asking about career options in genetics. Can you tell us about how you came to be a genetic counselor? What do you like most about the job? What are the challenges?

Elissa Levin: I first learned about genetic counseling (GC) while I was in college studying biology and psychology. I did a fantastic summer rotation in a cytogenetics lab at CHOP, where I completely fell in love with genetics. The difficulty was that while I wanted to be connected to the basic science, I also knew that I wanted to work directly with people. Then I discovered the field of genetic counseling and it seemed like the perfect hybrid.

As I began my training as a genetic counselor, the Internet was becoming a growing information resource and seemed like a natural means of providing genetic counseling services in the future. Then, while working in General Genetics at UCSF, this concept was further reinforced as access to genetics clinics in northern California became more difficult – clinics were closing, people were waiting months for appointments, traveling long distances, and some were unable to afford the time off of work, child care, travel costs, etc… More of our pre-visit and follow-up genetic counseling services were being provided by phone (which, of course, we could not bill for). Basically, the lack of access to genetic services obviated the need to identify alternative methods for delivering genetic counseling services.

At that time an opportunity arose to establish a Web-based genetic counseling service at DNA Direct that mirrored traditional GC services. Several years later, my new challenge at Navigenics is to take my “virtual genetic counseling” experience and apply it to a new realm of testing – whole-genome risk assessment – in a professional and responsible way.

What I like most about being a GC is also its greatest challenge – working with people to help them understand complex information and what it means to them and to their family. This means staying on top of new technologies, research, risk communication strategies, and creating an infrastructure to provide accurate information responsibly.

Hsien: With the number of online personal genomics companies increasing, how do you think this will affect the demand for genetic counselors? How do you think personal genomics will change a genetic counselor’s job description?

Elissa: Genomic risk assessment does not leave out the genetic counselor. In my opinion, it will actually increase the demand for genetic counselors over the coming years. In the past decade or so the role of the GC has expanded greatly – out of the prenatal and pediatric clinics and into a wide range of subspecialties, research endeavors, industry, and more. I see the coming years as a continuum of this trend, but a critical one in which the opportunity to integrate genetic counseling services into primary care settings and addressing common, complex disease (as opposed to rare disease) will increase exponentially.

It is well known that most healthcare providers are not comfortable with providing genetic information and interpretation for their patients. That is where genetic counselors become such critical players in this evolving field of genetic and genomic medicine.

GCs already have the core skills to facilitate the transition of genomic discovery into a clinical setting – communicating risk information and complex genetic concepts, facilitating decision-making, and integrating personal and family medical history.

I see the field of genomic medicine as being a great opportunity for GCs, further underscoring the value of our profession as a key component of a healthcare team.

Hsien: Companies like Navigenics and DNA Direct have made genetic counseling a core offering while others like 23andMe and deCODEme have not. Do you think genetic counseling is dispensible if there’s quality online content? What do you think are the pitfalls of not offering genetic counseling to customers?

Elissa: We all know that genetics is complex and that different people have different needs – some need more support in the basics, decision-making, interpretation while some need less. From my experience in “virtual” genetic counseling, I strongly believe that no matter how high quality the content and how interactive the tools, being able to speak with an actual, trained genetics professional makes all the difference.

Personally, I’m thrilled to continue be part of companies that value the role of the genetic counselor, since Navigenics offers GC as a core component of our services. Companies that do not offer GC services are likely to create an environment where consumers are driven to healthcare providers who may not be equipped to interpret this type of information. (This is one reason why Navigenics is committed to developing consumer-friendly tools as well as resources to educate physicians, nurses, PAs, and other providers.)

That is why I view the services offered by companies like Navigenics and DNA Direct to be a model for offering professional services in the future. The key is to set industry standards to offer accurate, responsible testing and support services to patients and providers alike. Our commitment to this goal, with GC services included as a core component of testing, is why we’re actively organizing a forum to address industry standards this fall in Washington DC to include heads of industry, academia, ethics, and policy (please see our press release on April 8).

Hsien: What kind of people do you think will be the first to sign up for Navigenics?

Elissa: It is hard to say, but there are so many people who are interested in learning more about who they are on a genetic level. There is a growing trend towards people becoming more proactive about their health and wellness. Over the past few years, I’ve been hearing from an increasing number of people who want to know what health conditions they may be more likely to develop, or not, down the road.

I believe it is safe to say that those who initially choose to take the Navigenics Health Compass test will be those who are looking to maximize their health and wellness and focus their healthcare needs. As this type of testing is not yet reimbursed by insurers, initially this will likely be those who have the ability to spend healthcare dollars out of pocket. As with most new products and services, over time this type of testing will become much more accessible to larger populations.

Hsien: Given the cost, why should people get their whole genomes scanned rather than selecting a few specific genetic tests as follow-up to red flags in their family history?

Elissa: There are actually several reasons why whole genome scans can be a great tool for people. First, relying solely on family history is not a complete story for many people, and some have no such information available. Even for those who have access to family history, what we know with certainty about our family’s medical history can leave a lot to be desired.

Second, if you look at the cost of traditional, indication-specific genetic tests, the costs range from about a hundred dollars to thousands. When you look at the amount of genetic information you receive along with the number of health conditions, it becomes a very cost-effective endeavor.

Finally, the amount of information someone gets from a single genome scan is incredible! What we can provide today is a snapshot of information that has been validated in scientific studies to date. Over time, the same fundamental test will continue to provide information about new health conditions. I think it’s also important to point out that Navigenics also provides ongoing genetic counseling services for anyone who chooses to have a genome-wide risk assessment. Therefore, one test today can yield an ongoing supply of reliable, genetic health-related information.

Thank you, Elissa!

Are any Eye on DNA readers Navigenics Health Compass members? Please share your story in the comments or email me!

Update: See Elissa in this Navigenics genetic counseling video. (HT: Genetic Future)



Eye on DNA Headlines for 28 March 2008

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted March 28, 2008 in DNA Testing, Eye on DNA Headlines, Jobs Involving DNA

(>> Start a discussion!)


Eye on DNA Headlines for 3 January 2008

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted January 3, 2008 in Eye on DNA Headlines, Jobs Involving DNA

  • Guardian Unlimited’s Alok Jha compiles a list of the scientific highlights of 2007 and includes genome-wide studies and the genetically modified food.
  • “We, Formosans, are all Aborigines,” proclaims Professor Francis Lai of Lowell Massachusetts in the Taipei Times. He claims that scientists have found that Hoklo and Hakka-speaking Taiwanese share 85% of their genome with Formosan Aborigines. Prof. Lai believes this debunks the myth that Taiwanese have Han Chinese ancestry. So perhaps I am more exotic than I thought!
  • dna shoah projectIf you or someone you know lost family during the Holocaust, you may be interested in the DNA Shoah Project. The DNA database will be used to identify the remains of Holocaust victims, reunite siblings and close relatives separated by World War II, and conduct genetic disease research (with consent).
  • Suzanne In of Bitesize Bio has a great list of alternative careers for scientists. I have personally engaged in #5 business development, #8 science copy writing, #9 medical/technical writing, #10 science journalism, and #13 teaching. That leaves me about 10 to tackle although I think I’ll leave the lawyer one to Blaine.
  • I’m going to be keeping an eye on io9, a new science fiction blog that’s part of the Gawker network. Lots of stuff that way out there, just like much of DNA tech. More about io9 at Biology in Science Fiction.

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Genetic Counselor Among Careers with Bright Futures

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted December 28, 2007 in Jobs Involving DNA

US News & World Report has come out with their list of Best Careers for 2008. Genetic counseling was one of the 31 best careers profiled based on job satisfaction, training difficulty, prestige, job market outlook, and pay. The average median salary for genetic counselors is pegged at $71,100.

Some 90 percent of genetic counselors are satisfied with their job. And it’s not surprising. Compared with other healthcare professions, your task is easier. You’re not expected to cure difficult diseases but merely to help a person explore options and provide support. So most of your clients are pleased with what you’ve done. Also, you’re not forced into 12-minute patient appointments. A session with a patient or family member often lasts an hour. Plus, the job market is growing.

sleeping_on_job_2 A friend and I also had a laugh over the inclusion of "professor" as one of the best careers of 2008. My friend is an associate professor at one of the leading research universities in the United States and neither of us could stop chortling at the cheerful and easy going "executive summary."

If you can land a tenure-track position at a four-year institution, you’ll enjoy many advantages. You’ll get the pleasure of teaching—but only six to 15 hours a week, so you’re unlikely to burn out. Outside of class, you’re required to meet with students, but that too is just a few hours a week. Most of the time, you’ll do research or write on a scholarly topic that interests you. And in some specialties, you can pick up extra money by consulting. You also get to work in a delightful work environment: a college campus. Plus, after seven years, you get tenure—lifetime job security.

Pleasure of teaching? Unlikely to burn out? Just a few hours? Scholarly topic that interests you? Extra money by consulting? Delightful work environment? Tenure = lifetime job security after just seven years? ROFLMAO Who the heck did they survey?

If your profession is one of those listed as a best career of 2008, let us know if you think US News & World Report got it right!



DNA Job: Cardiovascular Genetic Epidemiologist

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted December 6, 2007 in Jobs Involving DNA

I’m not in the market for a new job but I still like looking through the jobs section at New Scientist. Here’s one that caught my eye from this week’s issue.

Cardiovascular/Genetic Epidemiologist
University of Oxford, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, Cancer Epidemiology Unit
£33,779 – £40,335 p.a.

We are seeking a Cardiovascular/Genetic Epidemiologist to lead a range of vascular disease projects including studies of the role of obesity, alcohol and tobacco on vascular disease risk as well as collaborating with leading genetic epidemiologists on genetic association and interaction studies. You will hold a Ph.D. in epidemiology or a closely related subject with several years postdoctoral research experience, alongside an international reputation in cardiovascular/genetic epidemiology. It is desirable that you should have experience in the planning and management of epidemiological analyses and in the subsequent dissemination of research findings in peer-reviewed publications and by presentations at international scientific meetings.

The closing date for applications is Friday 4 January 2008. Good luck!

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Salaries for Jobs in Genetics

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted September 19, 2007 in Jobs Involving DNA

beaker dr bunsen honeydewEver wonder how much money you could earn working in the field of genetics? Dr. William Vosburgh, project manager for the District of Columbia Consolidated Forensics & Public Health Laboratory, was reportedly being paid more than $230,000. Compare that to the average annual salary of $38,443 for biological science technicians in the Federal Government.

According to myDanwei, “a a pioneer of developing the next generation organization, people, salary, and job information searching and data mining platforms,” here are some current genetics salaries in biotechnology companies:

  • Microarray Software Engineer – $88,400
  • Statistical Genetics Analyst – $85,000
  • Senior Scientist – $95,000
  • Bioinformatics Research Associate – $68,000
  • Bioinformatics Scientist – $88,400
  • Cytogenetic Technologist – $50,320
  • Molecular Genetics clinical Lab Scientist – $59,987
  • Genetic Counselor – $54,600

Here are some more genetics salaries from which pegs the average earnings of someone working in genetics at $57,000.

  • Genetics Counselor – $53,000
  • Research Geneticist – $86,000
  • Molecular Biology Research Associate – $45,000
  • Biotech Technical Writer – $75,000
  • Cytogenetic Technologist – $42,000

Update: Chris Miller gives us the following figures in the comments:

  • Assistant Professor – $54,036
  • Associate Professor – $64,074

Steve Murphy adds:

  • Medical geneticists with MD’s – $90,000 to $125,000

GeeZee gives us these genetics salaries in Malaysia:

  • Bioinformatics Scientist – $15,000
  • Bioinformatics Research Officer – $8,000
  • Bioinformatics Software Developer – $9,000

adamB also in Malaysia tells us:

  • Junior Bioinformatician – $6,900

What do you think? Do these salaries make you want to join the genetics work force?

HT: My sister

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US Military Discriminates Against Service Members With Genetic Diseases

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted August 30, 2007 in DNA Testing, DNA in General, Jobs Involving DNA

air force studentsService members of the US Armed Forces may risk their lives for their country but if they’ve got a disease-causing genetic mutation, they are shown the door. Karen Kaplan at the LA Times writes on a disturbing US armed forces policy to deny benefits to servicemen and women who have congenital or hereditary conditions unless they’ve already served 8 years.

Kathy Hudson of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University:

You could be in the military and be a six-pack-a-day smoker, and if you come down with emphysema, ‘That’s OK. We’ve got you covered. But if you happen to have a disease where there is an identified genetic contribution, you are screwed.

It’s an antiquated policy that was meant to prevent people from enlisting for health benefits knowing they would later develop a serious and/or life-threatening condition. Ironically, genetic discrimination against civilian employees in the federal government was banned in 2000. The same could happen to all insurance policy holders if the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2007 isn’t passed into law but even if it is, it won’t apply to military personnel.

To keep their military patients from being denied health benefits, doctors are now advising their patients to avoid genetic testing of all forms, including private testing. Dr. Mark Nunes, who headed the Air Force Genetics Center’s DNA diagnostic laboratory at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi:

If someone called me up with regard to genetic testing, I had to say, ‘That might not be something you want to pursue.”

You could get court-martialed if it were revealed that you had sought medical treatment or testing outside the system.

This is shocking and dismaying. How soon will it be before the US armed forces (or any other country) begin genetic screening of recruits? As if it’s not already hard enough to get qualified people to serve. Who would want to join the military knowing they may not get the benefits they deserve, especially health benefits which is undeniably one of the most important.

For more on genetic discrimination against job applicants, see my previous post – Want a job? Submit your DNA.

More on genetic discrimination in the military:

NB: The 81st Medical Group operating out of Keesler Air Force Base has the only medical genetics center in the Department of Defense.



Eye on DNA Links for 15 July 2007

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted July 15, 2007 in DNA and Genealogy, DNA and the Law, Eye on DNA Headlines, Jobs Involving DNA

  • Gene Genie #11 is up at Med Journal Watch all the way from Switzerland. Now that’s more exotic to me than any island in the Pacific.
  • nokia smartphoneNew Scientist reports that cellphones are a great source of DNA and have become instrumental pieces of evidence in criminal investigations; loose cheek cells land in the microphone from the user’s breath and skin flakes get lodged in the button recesses and earpiece.
  • Collecting DNA is separate from actually analyzing it. Thousands of crime scene evidence samples in Massachusetts dating back to 1989 have never been processed.
  • The lack of resources is not only confined to forensic DNA analysis. Biotech and pharmaceutical companies can’t find enough quality employees to hire within the US. Three types of scientists are needed: “It needs biologists to make basic discoveries. It needs people who can take discoveries to a precommercial stage by proving the concept. It needs people who design and execute clinical trials. Above all, it needs graduates with skills in common-sense business practices, like teamwork.”
  • The Predictive Health Ethics Research (PredictER) blog from the Indiana University Center for Bioethics is a great source of information on genetics, bioethics, and policy.
  • Genetic genealogy in the US hits the news in the UK where the Observer has an excellent overview piece – The genes that built America: Piecing together the DNA jigsaw.

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DNA Technicians Wanted…Badly

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted June 7, 2007 in DNA and the Law, Jobs Involving DNA

william vosburghMore proof that if you know something about DNA, you have a potentially lucrative career ahead of you. Washington, DC officials recently hired Dr. William Vosburgh as a project manager for the District of Columbia Consolidated Forensics & Public Health Laboratory.

The Project Manager will also oversee some key interim activities, including working with other labs to address the current backlog of DNA cases, and reviewing and recommending improvements for our entire forensics operations as they relate to DNA.

Dr. Vosburgh is being paid more than $230,000 under a one-year contract. The big deal is that DC officials had to find a not-so-straightforward way to pay him this amount since Dr. Vosburgh wanted to be paid more than the budget would allow.

According to The Examiner, the previous DNA lab director and other lab technicians left in 2006 because they didn’t get the support they needed. Does this mean they didn’t get paid what they wanted or the lab was lacking funding? All this despite a public hearing in March 2006 at which Chief of Police Charles H Ramsey emphasized the City’s commitment to creating their own DNA lab rather than relying on federal government (FBI) resources.

Forensic positions require background checks and months of specialized training so those who qualify are in high demand. According to the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly earnings of forensic science technicians in May 2004 was $21.16. And the average annual salary for biological science technicians in the Federal Government was $38,443. (Looks like DC wanted Dr. Vosburgh very badly.)

The American Academy of Forensic Sciences has a list of colleges and universities that offer forensic science programs. Good luck!

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