The Department of Human Genetics has American Board of Medical Genetics accredited training programs in clinical molecular genetics and clinical cytogenetics. The Department of Human Genetics has American Board of Medical Genetics accredited training programs in clinical molecular genetics and clinical cytogenetics. The training programs have a wide range of clinical and research activities including orphan disease diagnostics, genotype-phenotype correlation studies, cancer genetics, translation of new gene discoveries for diagnostic purposes, technology development, centromere delineation, chromosome structure and function studies, and phenotype/karyotype studies. In addition, other research interests in the department include complex disease genetics, gene mapping, human gene variation and evolution and neurogenetics.

In this new series of articles, we catch up with former molecular genetics fellows to see what they are up to now.

First up is Ghayda Mirzaa, M.D., FAAP, FACMG. Dr. Mirzaa was a clinical genetics fellow at the University of Chicago and participated in the molecular genetics fellowship from 2011 to 2012.

Editor (ED): Tell me about where you currently work and what your job responsibilities are?

Ghayda Mirzaa (GM): I’m currently working at a research laboratory focusing on neurogenetic disorders at the University of Washington in Seattle. My job responsibilities include studying the clinical, neuroimaging and molecular characteristics of developmental disorders of the brain, as well as performing different advanced molecular techniques directed towards increasing our knowledge of their underlying genetic causes.

ED: How has the fellowship program prepared you for this position?

GM: The molecular fellowship has granted me the expertise in basic molecular techniques that are essential for many research projects.  Given the focus of the molecular lab at the University of Chicago, the time I spent there has specifically expanded my knowledge of the genetic and molecular bases of many neurodevelopmental disorders that are of interest to me.

ED: I know you just left but what will you miss most about Chicago?

GM: What can I say? I love Chicago! And I tremendously enjoyed the six years I have spent in this wonderful city. So, I will miss a lot of things I suppose. I will miss riding my bike and running along the Lake Shore, having enormous brunches with my family and friends at the many tasty restaurants there (I personally love Wild Berry, Tempo, and Yolk), and strolling along Michigan Avenue, to name just a few.

ED: How has spending time training in a molecular diagnostic lab impacted you as a clinician, or the way you approach patient-care?

GM: Well, laboratory training, as I mentioned, has given me an in-depth understanding of the molecular basis of many genetic syndromes, which is truly essential for providing adequate patient care and counseling. Furthermore, learning the indications, techniques and limitations of different testing methodologies has been most helpful in making appropriate and informed diagnostic testing decisions. And last, but certainly not least, the laboratory is an essential member of health services and plays an equally important role in providing excellent quality medical care. So it was a good experience learning its’ “ins and outs” and becoming familiar with all the responsibilities of the laboratory and its’ personnel to ensure providing an excellent service, such as accurate documentation, careful handling of samples, timely processing of result and working closely with other members of the patient’s care team – all in pursuit of providing as much help and information to the patients and their families as possible. So all in all, it has made me a better-informed geneticist, with a well-grounded experience, and hopefully this will translate into better patient care. 

Next up is Jelena Brezo, Ph.D.  Dr. Brezo was a clinical molecular genetics fellow at the University of Chicago from 2008-2010. 

ED: You are embarking on a new fellowship at UCLA.  Can you tell us more about it?

Jelena Brezo (JB): I am pursuing training in an additional diagnostic specialty (cytogenetics) here at UCLA. I decided to go for it as it seemed like a natural evolution to be conversant in different methodologies and have an additional perspective on a closely related diagnostic subfield.

ED: Prior to this new fellowship, tell me about what you have been doing since you left the University of Chicago in 2010?

JB: My family has expanded and we moved to California, where, after adjusting to their rigorous licensing requirements, I worked as an associate director of the clinical molecular genetic laboratory at City of Hope. I learned a tremendous amount and was fortunate to work with truly exceptional colleagues.

ED: How has the fellowship program at the University of Chicago prepared you for this new endeavor?

JB: During my training here, my mentor, Dr. Soma Das, really emphasized the importance of both the technical and interpretative aspects of our job. The necessity of this type of approach became evident almost immediately in my role at City of Hope.

ED: What do you miss most about Chicago?

JB: The excellent public transport system, the lovely downtown area around Grant park, and the great friends I made while in Chicago.

ED: Any memorable anecdotes or stories from your time here? 

JB: What I appreciated a lot during my training were the staff in the Das lab. This group was not only wonderful to work with but also included some extraordinary talented and generous people: performing musicians, founders of charitable organizations, volunteers, and excellent chefs.