Methods in Cancer Genetics Epidemiology Research

Module 1

The first module is a one-year certification program culminating in a Specialty Program Certificate granted jointly by USC and City of Hope’s Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics / Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences. Requirements for the certificate include eight units of coursework through the Department of Preventive Medicine at Keck School of Medicine of USC, as well as coursework and research projects through City of Hope. Nurse and genetic counselor trainees in the Certificate Program enroll under limited student status at USC, and receive a USC transcript and formal graduate credit for completed coursework.


Module 2

The second module is a two-year Masters of Science program in applied cancer genetics developed by City of Hope and USC. The program requires each trainee to complete 25 core units, including a master's thesis. Formal admission of physician trainees to USC is required for entrance into the Masters program. This module is facilitated by Dr. Azen. Full tuition is included in the support budget for all trainees.

The objective of the certification program is to instill trainees with basic epidemiologic and statistical principles. Course topics include basic statistics, study methodology, sampling procedures, and questionnaire development. Through these courses, trainees learn how to:
  • Select appropriate statistical methods and apply these methods to raw data.
  • Read, critique, and interpret statistical concepts in the literature, as well as analyze computer output from commonly used statistical packages.
  • Gain experience in how to access, interpret and analyze population-based cancer registry data using surveillance data collected by the Los Angeles County Cancer Surveillance Program (CSP), the largest of the 11 NCI-sponsored Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) registries.

It is expected that genetic epidemiologic studies emanating from such registries will form a model system for high quality cancer genetics research with translational potential. This aspect of the curriculum will be further enhanced by proposed training in creation and manipulation of clinical registry databases through the Department of Research Information Sciences, under the direction of faculty member/mentor Joyce Niland, Ph.D. The advanced coursework provides the physician trainee with a basic understanding of genetic and molecular epidemiology and introduces them to the emerging field of bioinformatics. Course topics include basic genetics concepts (such as Mendelian genetics and the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium), segregation analysis, linkage analysis and an introduction to genetic susceptibility to cancer. Topics in bioinformatics include information collection methods, database design, information retrieval, data mining and novel methods for data analysis (including CART and neural networks). Course reviews by both physician and allied health professional participants are highly appraised.