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Free UNSW Medicine course dispels myths of the genetic revolution

Being able to study at UNSW Medicine for free, from anywhere in the world and with some of the world’s leading medical researchers may sound like fantasy. However in May it will become a reality when UNSW Medicine hosts its first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

More than 7000 students from 131 countries have already enrolled in the first MOOC which focuses on personalised medicine. Titled, Myths and Realities of Personalised Medicine: The Genetic Revolution, the course - which will focus on University research strengths such as cancer, infectious disease and neurological disorders - aims to increase students’ understanding of how tailoring treatment to individual patients based on their genetic code could affect patients, health professionals and change the way medicine is practiced throughout the world.

According to course lead Dr Caroline Ford from UNSW Medicine, teaching the content in a MOOC is a great way to increase the health literacy of a wide range of people by directing them to cutting edge research and side-stepping the large amount of ill-informed information available to the general public on this ever changing topic.

“The health industry is in a state of flux. So much is set to change in the face of this ‘genetic revolution’ and there are so many social, political, ethical and legal implications that come with this new knowledge. Patients will be empowered with having more ownership over their health decisions but it’s important that health literacy in this area also comes too,” she said.

Rarely do university academics have a cohort of students from such a diverse background as Dr Ford will have in this MOOC. So far, enrolments include people aged from 18 to 80, students who did not complete high school to PhDs, and students from nearly every continent on earth.  Dr Ford said this makes presenting the course both exciting and challenging.

“We will be learning from our students as much as they will be learning from us. There is a lot we still don’t know about how personalised medicine will work in various cultures, we are definitely looking forward to hearing the opinions of students on the various many ethical, political, cultural and legal questions still to be answered,” she said.

While Dr Ford reiterates that improving health literacy among the general population is a definite aim of the course, fellow course lead Dr Orin Chisholm from UNSW Medicine predicts the course will also be popular among health practitioners.

“It is such a new area and still rapidly developing, so many healthcare professionals did not learn about it in their training. Despite this they are faced with implementing healthcare decisions with their patients that requires them to understand the ideas and be able to convey them in plain English to their patients in a shared decision-making system,” she said.

Regardless of such obstacles, Dr Ford said the benefits personalised medicine will bring to patients and health professionals will be huge and enable not only a more effective and personalised health system, but also empower patients and the general public with the ability to take ownership of their own health outcomes.

“Even If this course can help one person and change their way of thinking about health, then we have achieved a lot,” she said.

For more information about the course, or to enrol go here.