Judith Tsipis Steps Down as Director of Genetic Counseling Program

Tsipis dinner

After 25 years at the helm of the Brandeis Genetic Counseling program, Judith Tsipis has handed over the leadership reins to Gretchen Schneider.

On June 3rd, close to 100 people gathered in the Levin Ballroom at Brandeis to honor and celebrate Judith’s illustrious career as a pioneer in the field of training genetic counselors. Attendees included over 40 alumni, former and present faculty members, family and close friends.

Highlights and memories were shared by: Beth Rosen-Sheidley, an alum from the first graduating class in 1994; Kathryn Spitzer Kim, the first Assistant Director from the Program; Gretchen Schneider; Judith’s son Yanni and husband, Kosta; and two additional alumni, Christa Haun and Jason Carmichael.

Judith created the master’s program in response to her own family’s experience with Canavan disease, a recessive degenerative disorder that causes progressive damage to nerve cells in the brain. Brandeis admitted its first class in 1992 and is proud to have over 200 alumni.

Judith will continue to be involved with the program in various capacities: coordinating journal club, serving as a thesis advisor and member of the Advisory Board.




John Wardle Named Division of Science Head

John Wardle, Division of ScienceSusan Birren, Dean of Arts and Sciences, has announced that John Wardle, Professor of Physics, will be the new Head of the Division of Science.

The following is Susan’s email:

“I am pleased to announce that John Wardle will be the new Head of the Division of Science.  John is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics and is a former chair of the Physics department.  In his new role he will oversee science-wide programs and initiatives, including the summer undergraduate research program and will work with Division of Science faculty and staff to identify new directions for the division.  I am delighted that he has agreed to take on this role and I hope that you will join with me in welcoming him.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Eve Marder who, as the first Head of the Division, created and steered many of the priorities of the Division.  During her time as Head, Eve ably represented the Sciences at Brandeis and beyond, worked to make the Summer Undergraduate Science Program a flourishing success, changed the way we trained students and postdocs in the ethical conduct of research, and worked tirelessly to secure funding and recognition for the Sciences.  Thank you Eve!”

Genetic Counseling Program Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Brandeis’ Genetic Counseling Program celebrated its 20th anniversary on Oct. 26th with over 140 attendees including alums, program faculty (past and present) and current students. Judith Tsipis, who founded the program and has been its director since its inception, credits the idea of the genetic counseling program to Eve Marder. “I was having lunch in the Stein with Eve and Kalpana White,” she remembers, “when Eve mentioned an editorial she had read about genetic counseling written by Nancy Wexler [then president of the Hereditary Disease Foundation].” Marder then remarked that there weren’t enough genetic counselors and suggested that Tsipis look into it. That conversation quickly led to the creation of the program, the first genetic counseling program in New England. The program opened its doors to seven students in the fall of 1992 and now has over 160 alums who practice all across the US as well as in England, Norway, Israel and Germany. The party was held in the program’s new “home” in Gerstenzang and included dinner as well as several toasts to Tsipis for her leadership, passion, mentorship and commitment to the genetic counseling profession. Tsipis refers to the program as “her crazy dream — a dream inspired by her experiences with her son Andreas who had Canavan disease”, and she hopes that the many genetic counselors trained at Brandeis can help other families such as hers .

New course on Genomic Health Care

Professor Barbara Lerner will teach a new course, BIOL 235b American Health Policy & Practice and the Delivery of Genomic Health Care, in Spring Semester, 2012. The course is now scheduled for Block X2,  Tuesdays from 6:30 PM–9:20 PM. Enrollment is limited to Genetic Counseling or Health Policy graduate students or with permission of the instructor.

The continuous discovery of genetic markers for common diseases is leading to an increasing demand for genetic services, and for the integration of traditional medical genetics with mainstream medicine and public health care. In addition, the American healthcare system is evolving and huge changes in how care is accessed, financed and delivered can be expected in the coming years. Those providing genetic services will therefore need a strong background in the structure of the American healthcare system and how public policy is influencing the field of medical genetics. This course is specifically designed to meet this objective using a mixture of readings from the literature, writing assignments, lecture, class discussion, guest speakers, and student presentations.

GC student wins fellowship to study Cystic Fibrosis carrier screening

Erica Wellington (MS ’12), a student in the Genetic Counseling Program, has been awarded a Jane Engelberg Memorial Fellowship Student Research Award by the National Society of Genetic Counselors. The purpose of the JEMF Student Research Award is to foster research and grant writing skills in genetic counseling students, skills which can continue to be used throughout their careers. Erica’s masters research project is entitled Cystic fibrosis carrier screening: Current practices and challenges in genetic counseling.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is one of the most common recessive genetic conditions in the Caucasian population, making it a frequent counseling topic in the prenatal clinic. However, because CF displays allelic and phenotypic heterogeneity, genetic counseling of carrier couples is often a challenging task. Depending on the mutations found, carrier couples are at risk of having a child anywhere along a phenotypic spectrum that includes classic CF, nonclassic CF, congenital bilateral absence of the vas deferens (CBAVD) and subclinical manifestations. Genotype-phenotype correlations are highly variable, and complex alleles, the effects of which are mediated by chromosomal background, further complicate counseling. Although there is a large body of literature describing the prognostic ambiguities associated with CF, the CF carrier screening and counseling practices of genetic counselors have not yet been described. This study will use an online survey and telephone interviews to evaluate prenatal genetic counselors’ knowledge of CF carrier screening guidelines, describe current practices, and identify the genetic counseling challenges presented by complex screening scenarios. Establishing this baseline description of practices and challenges is one of the first steps toward helping genetic counselors provide accurate, consistent and useful CF counseling as part of quality preconception and prenatal patient care.

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