DNA sequencing of anatomy lab cadavers to provide hands-on precision medicine introduction to medical students

BMC Med Educ. 2020 Nov 16;20(1):437. doi: 10.1186/s12909-020-02366-0.


Background: Medical treatment informed by Precision Medicine is becoming a standard practice for many diseases, and patients are curious about the consequences of genomic variants in their genome. However, most medical students' understanding of Precision Medicine derives from classroom lectures. This format does little to foster an understanding for the potential and limitations of Precision Medicine. To close this gap, we implemented a hands-on Precision Medicine training program utilizing exome sequencing to prepare a clinical genetic report of cadavers studied in the anatomy lab. The program reinforces Precision Medicine related learning objectives for the Genetics curriculum.

Methods: Pre-embalmed blood samples and embalmed tissue were obtained from cadavers (donors) used in the anatomy lab. DNA was isolated and sequenced and illustrative genetic reports provided to the students. The reports were used to facilitate discussion with students on the implications of pathogenic genomic variants and the potential correlation of these variants in each "donor" with any anatomical anomalies identified during cadaver dissection.

Results: In 75% of cases, analysis of whole exome sequencing data identified a variant associated with increased risk for a disease/abnormal condition noted in the donor's cause of death or in the students' anatomical findings. This provided students with real-world examples of the potential relationship between genomic variants and disease risk. Our students also noted that diseases associated with 92% of the pathogenic variants identified were not related to the anatomical findings, demonstrating the limitations of Precision Medicine.

Conclusion: With this study, we have established protocols and classroom procedures incorporating hands-on Precision Medicine training in the medical student curriculum and a template for other medical educators interested in enhancing their Precision Medicine training program. The program engaged students in discovering variants that were associated with the pathophysiology of the cadaver they were studying, which led to more exposure and understanding of the potential risks and benefits of genomic medicine.

Keywords: Anatomy lab; Clinically informative variants; DNA sequencing; Exome sequencing; Histology; Precision medicine.

MeSH terms

  • Anatomy* / education
  • Cadaver
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Humans
  • Precision Medicine
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Students, Medical*

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