New Zealand Genetic Specialists join the team
Meet Russell and Jo, two of Genetic Counselling’s specialist members who bring more clinical and molecular genetics experience to the team.
Doctor Russell Gear and Jo Martindale are New Zealand based genetics professionals who are part of UTS’ Genetic Counselling team. Russell is an Advanced Trainee in Clinical Genetics with Genetic Health Service New Zealand, and Jo is a Molecular Geneticist and the head of the molecular section of Wellington Regional Genetics Laboratory. Both Russell and Jo will be delivering some of the live and online sessions for our students.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Russell: I was born in South Africa, grew up in New Zealand, and I’m married to an Australian. I prefer cricket to rugby, Jacinda to Scott, and vegemite to marmite. I am currently in my final year of clinical genetics training in Wellington, New Zealand.
Jo: I’m British-born and spent the first 25 years of my career in the UK before relocating to New Zealand in 2016. I love travelling and chilling out with my husband and kids, and we are all really enjoying having a new country to play with! I can quote Father Ted scripts from memory, I’ve inadvertently invented the most disgusting smoothie known to humankind (never again) and I’ve never drunk a hot cup of tea!
What made you decide to work in the area of human genetics and genomics?
Russell: My background specialty training was in paediatrics and all the interesting cases seemed to be sent to the geneticist!
All the interesting cases seemed to be sent to the geneticist!
Jo: Right from the very first time I encountered genetics at school nearly 40 years ago, I was hooked. I still remember learning about the haemophilia amongst the royal families of Europe descended from Queen Victoria and being fascinated by the logical aspects of inheritance patterns. That was before I learned about imprinting disorders of course!
What do you see as key challenges for the field in 2019?
Russell: As genomic testing hits the mainstream, clinical genetics departments will need to devolve some of their responsibilities to other sub-specialist areas. Supporting these sub-specialty clinicians in the short term will be crucial as to how genetic testing is conducted in the future. Furthermore, in what is an incredibly exciting time with a lot of positive news stories, moderating the public's expectations in the clinic may be challenging. Direct to consumer testing, and its shortcomings, may also start to bite.
Jo: Things are moving very fast, as they always have done in genetics, but I think progress is becoming almost exponential. From a lab point of view, one of the biggest challenges is meeting expectations as the technology improves. We can now sequence a huge amount of a person’s genome relatively cheaply but the interpretation of the data is far more difficult than the lab work associated with the testing. Delivering appropriate training in genomics, both to genetics and non-genetics professionals, is also a big challenge – especially helping people to get to grips with the very important differences between genetic tests and those offered by other pathology disciplines. Another challenge is dealing with the growth in direct-to-consumer testing which often has unexpected consequences, sometimes in the absence of appropriate counselling. Naturally, all of these things are particularly difficult when working under financial constraints – a huge challenge in itself.
Things are moving very fast, as they always have done in genetics, but I think progress is becoming almost exponential.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Russell: Constantly learning about new conditions and the way people deal with the challenges that come of their unique circumstances.
Jo: Everything! Well, almost. I find it really fulfilling when we get a result that actually provides an answer for a patient and their family members, often after many years of a “diagnostic odyssey”- pre-next generation sequencing this didn’t happen so often. It’s like detective work (and I’m a huge fan of detective novels!) I take pride in doing my job well and utilising all the skills I’ve accrued over the years to ensure we offer a great service to the people we help.
What made you decide to work with us to develop content?
Russell: When she asked me to be involved, I was so flattered it was easy to say yes. And I’m so glad I did as this course is looking fantastic - I hope you enjoy it!”
Jo: I’ve been involved in genomics teaching and training for the best part of 20 years and I get a lot of satisfaction in contributing to the learning of others. When I moved to New Zealand, I knew it was something I wanted to continue doing and this course provided a perfect opportunity.