Psychology and Genetics

by YPU Admin on April 3, 2013


My name is Melissa Noke and I am doing a PhD in Psychology at the University of Manchester.

I am a full time PhD student so I spend most of my time organising research for my PhD, but I also teach as an e-tutor on the Manchester Leadership Programme(MLP), a programme which offers a combination of academic study and volunteering to students from a variety of disciplines.

In the past few years I have also been involved in teaching on the BSc Psychology

degree and this year I am a seminar leader for the Year 3 Health Psychology module.

My PhD is focused on the psychosocial aspect of genetics, and through my research I would like to understand how children feel after being told that they are a genetic carrier of a sickle cell disease (SCD). Although my PhD is classified as being a research degree within a Health Psychology stream, I will not be able to practice as a Health Psychologist once I have finished. However I could pursue a career in Health Psychology research, either within the NHS or a University.

In Depth…

The focus of my PhD may seem specific and you may well be wondering why I have decided to spend three years investigating such a tiny area. Well it is because SCD affect more people than you would think, and most probably someone you know! In 2010/2011 approximately 1 in 42 women were found to be a SCD carrier during pregnancy and in 2010 nearly 9,800 newborn babies were found to carry a SCD. SCD are a group of different but related blood disorders which can result in damage to vital organs and even death. SCD are genetic and follow a recessive inheritance pattern. In a family affected by SCD not everyone will have a SCD - some people may be carriers. So what is a carrier? A carrier does not have, nor will ever develop SCD, but SCD is carried in their genes which means it is not possible to tell from looking at someone whether they are a carrier. If two people with SCD carrier genes have a baby, the baby has a 1 in 4 chance of having a SCD.

In 2007, the NHS rolled out a new programme in every area in the UK. The programme enables professionals to give all newborn babies a tiny blood test at around 5 days old to see if they have one of 5 common genetic diseases; a test known as a newborn blood spot screening test. Special technology can see from the blood tests whether the baby has a SCD. But the technology can now also see if a baby is a carrier of a SCD. People have different views about whether babies should be tested to see if they are carriers. On the one hand, people think that if the technology is advanced enough to see that a child is a carrier, it is a good thing to tell so they can make informed reproductive decisions and are more prepared if they go on to have a child who is ill. But on the other hand, people think it may negatively affect a child if they know that they are a carrier, and believe some children may feel depressed, anxious or even stigmatised if they are told they are a carrier.

I really enjoy reading around the area and find it a fascinating debate. After all, if someone told me that I was carrying a genetic disease I don't know how I would feel. Do you?

Going Further…

  • Genetic counsellors talk to families before and after they have genetic tests. You can find out more about becoming a genetic counsellor here
  • Other professionals who also work with families and also go to talk to families who find out that their baby has a genetic illness through the newborn screening programme are health visitors. You can find out more about becoming a health visitor here
  • You can find out more about studying for a degree in Psychology at The University of Manchester by looking at the departmental webpages

·  More information about other illnesses which are screened within the newborn screening programme can be found here:

Cystic fibrosis

Phenylketonuria (PKU)

Congenital hypothyroidism (CHT)

MCADD (medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency)

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