2000 Public Health Symposium

Connecting Research, Education, Practice and Community

The 2000 symposium was held on Monday, September 18, 2000 at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.


The exponential development of genetic knowledge and technology has already demonstrated the tremendous potential of genetics for improving the public's health. Genetics research is disclosing new knowledge of the determinants of disease and how genes and environmental exposures interact to increase risk for experiencing specific diseases. Individuals can now be identified to be at increased genetic susceptibility for specific diseases as well as be candidates for specific therapies and interventions. Genetics technology already includes tests for hundreds of genetic conditions and is expected to develop a variety of therapies for genetically-related diseases. Indeed, it is now assumed that virtually all diseases have a genetic component; hence genetic knowledge and technology have crucial roles to play in the prevention of virtually all disease and in the promotion of human health.

An overarching concern of all who are engaged in genetics and public health is the public fear about how genetics will be used by corporations, government, and groups that influence society. Many recognize the potential of genetics to impose a new version of eugenics at the expense of minority groups and the poor. There is also concern over equal access to the benefits that genetics has to offer. There is recognition of the many economic issues surrounding the use of genetic knowledge and technologies.

The Symposium

The Public Health Genetics Interdepartmental Concentration in Public Health Genetics was initiated at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in 1996. The faculty of this program had responsibility for organizing the symposium in coordination with the Michigan Department of Community Health. An important feature of the symposium is the role that the students in the Public Health Genetics Interdepartmental Concentration will play as moderators at the symposium.

This symposium will highlight critical issues of how genetic information and technologies are impacting all facets of public health including research, education, and practice. The impact of genetics on the diverse communities served by public health will also be a focus. As suggested by the Symposium theme, the Program will emphasize the need for the research, education and practice communities and the community at large to work together to enable the full potential of genetics to be realized in achieving the public health mission. The keynote speaker will be the distinguished scientist (and Michigan faculty member) Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health. He will speak on public health genetics in a world where the human sequence is known.

The program also will feature Dr. Muin Khoury, Director of the Office of Genetics and Disease Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Michele Lloyd-Puryear, Chief, Genetic Services Branch, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, HSRA, Professor Pilar Ossario of the Center of Medicine and Society at the University of Wisconsin, Mr. Paul Miller, Commissioner, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Dr. Georgia Dunston from Howard University. Several School of Public Health faculty members who are leaders in this emerging and exceedingly important field as well as colleagues from the Medical School, other universities, and agencies are also participating. Breakout sessions are planned on a broad range of topics, spanning policy, law, social justice, technology, counseling, and media.

It is anticipated that more than 800 participants will attend the conference, representing students and faculty from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, many colleagues on campus, genetics researchers, public health professionals, faculty of schools of public health, and leaders of advocacy organizations.

By bringing all these groups together the symposium will be able to examine potential linkages between the University, the public health system, the private sector, and the community at large to more effectively use genetic knowledge and technology to promote the mission of public health.

The symposium is dedicated to Dr. John Maassab, Professor of Epidemiology and former chair of the Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan School of Public Health. Dr. Maassab has used genetics to develop a flu vaccine that is administered nasally. This vaccine, which can be adapted quickly to fight the most current strain of flu, has the potential to improve the lives of millions of children and adults around the world. We honor Dr. Maassab for his long and distinguished career. He is a role model to others of how to harness the benefits of genetics.

The Symposium Resource Book and Web-cast are supported by Aviron, a biopharmaceutical company which is focused on the prevention of disease, and FluMist co-promotion partner, Wyeth Lederle Vaccines.