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FRSEMR 22H - My Genes and Cancer or return to Course Catalog Search

159990 – Section 001   

Faculty of Arts and SciencesFreshman SeminarsGiovanni Parmigiani
TermDay and TimeLocation
Fall 2016-2017  (show academic calendar)Tu   3:00 p.m. - 4:59 p.m.Sever 205 (FAS)
4  (show credit conversion for other schools)
Credit Level

The role of a person's genetic background in determining whether he or she will develop cancer, and when, is at the center of public discussions and active scientific investigations. Already, one?s genetic background is used in making making life-altering health decision aimed at preventing the occurrence of cancer, as was recently the case with actor Angelina Jolie. This seminar will explore the extent to which current scientific knowledge can inform this type of decisions. The goals is to gain enough understanding of the scientific background to critically evaluate the discourse of a genetic counseling session. The course will proceed at first by laying essential foundations of genetic inheritance in humans; cancer evolutionary theories; statistical risk; and decision-making in health care. Subsequently student will read articles from the scientific and popular press, and listen to podcasts. In class we will discuss the readings. There are no strict prerequisites, though some familiarity with the basic concepts of probability and genetics will be very helpful. There is a good deal of reading and listening, which everyone is expected to do ahead of class. Students can expect readings in genetics and statistics that will stretch them, though it will not always be necessary to understand all the technical details of every paper. Students can also expect to read opinion pieces with which they (as well as I) may disagree. Students will be required to write two 5-page double spaced essays (midterm and final) and to lead a class discussion on the topic of one of their two papers. A typical paper is the critique of a scientific or popular press article, chosen from a list of suggested options or identified independently by the student, with my approval, during the first seven weeks of classes. Attendance is essential, not only for the students? education, but for the benefit their contributions provide to the others.

Course open to Freshman Students Only

Exam Group

Cross Registration
Not eligible for cross-registration