Editors: Norio Fujiki, M.D. & Darryl R.J. Macer, Ph.D.
Professor, Dept. of Experimental Radiology, Faculty of Medicine, Kyoto University, JAPAN
1. Genetics courses
When I asked questions about the courses named "genetics" or related subjects, 6 answered that they are giving courses in premedical years (first and second year). In our country premedical and medical years are continuous and students go to medical school continuously for six years. These premedical genetics are generally general genetics, for example about Drosophila or Mendel's laws, not human genetics usually. 38 (57%) answered that they teach some genetics in medical courses (third or fourth year). This was a significant increase from 35% in 1979, surveyed by the Japan Society of Genetics. The minimum was eight hours, and most had about 10 hours, usually in the basic medical education in the third or fourth year, together with physiology, anatomy, and biochemistry. Some of the medical schools ask faculty members from other universities to come and teach. These types of visiting medical professorships are quite common in Japan, particularly in genetics.
Many schools answered that genetics is taught as part of courses on biochemistry, embryology or pathology, or other courses. Usually in these cases only 3-4 lectures as a maximum, often 1-2 only. These are usually given by visiting lecturers.
2. Discussion or Decision involving Genetics in Ethics Committees
Another question was specifically addressed to the chairman of the medical ethics committees of medical schools, asking whether they had any experience of discussing or making decisions in questions regarding genes. Only 21, about a third, answered yes and 46 answered no. These 21 included a very wide range of decisions, for example one university answered that decision was made to purchase an automated sequence analyser, so that is gene-related. Sometimes these are not really questions for ethics committee, but maybe they have questions of science evaluation overlap there. I was also surprised in that about half of them, 33 were expecting or anticipating to face some issues related to genes in the near future. This is partly, as Prof. Kagawa mentioned, because of the very serious discussion at the Ministry of Health and Welfare about gene therapy, and also genetic diagnosis is getting very popular for research. There are also many more practical uses of genetic diagnosis in the last one or two years, so it may be reasonable to have this number of responses.
With the lack of faculty members specialised in genetics, I asked, in these cases when you expect to discuss some topic related to genetics, will you be able to find a person specialised in genetics in your faculty? Surprisingly 54 (81%) said yes, only 6 said no, and 7 said "don't know". There are quite a few people working in genetics represented around medical schools. We saw a number of reports from clinical studies and gene diagnosis at the Kobe meeting, so it is true that there are many people interested in genetics. To have consideration of ethical issues, is perhaps another sort of question. That is a short summary of the survey that I have been conducting.