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Cytogenetics is a specialized field of laboratory medicine dealing with the study of chromosomes and their relationship to disease and human body development. Chromosomes are found in the cells of all organisms and contain genetic material. Having a healthy chromosomal structure is fundamental to living a healthy human life.
Abnormal chromosomes can lead to a number of serious health complications including birth defects, mental retardation, infertility, miscarriage and even cancer. The work of a cytogenetic technologist is to identify the link between such conditions and cell chromosomes.
Cytogenetic technologists play an important role in the healthcare industry since the analysis of chromosomes is key to the correct diagnosis, prescription and treatment by medical geneticists, pediatricians, obstetricians, gynecologists and hematologists.
Cytogenetic technologists use tissue cultures and slide preparations from blood plasma, bone marrow, amniotic fluid and tumor samples to analyze a person’s chromosomes. The technologists work entails frequent use of high resolution microscopes in order to evaluate cell chromosomes and structure.
Cytogenetic technologists use Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization (FISH), the technique most frequently used to detect chromosome abnormalities. The reports the cytogenetic technologist eventually produces are meant for the consumption of doctors who will use it to make their treatment decisions.
If you would like to pursue a career in cytogenetic technology, the three things that you need are a solid foundation in core science theory, practical laboratory experience and need to have a professional or degree qualification from a recognized institution.
The laboratory skills that are most applicable to cytogenetic technology include an understanding of the handling and culturing of human cells and expertise in chromosome analysis.
Since cytogenetic technology is a fairly specialized niche of genetics and human biology, you do not necessarily have to have a first degree in cytogenetic technology in order to be considered for a cytogenetic job. In fact, many practicing cytogenetic technologists start with an undergraduate degree in biology and biochemistry before going ahead to take a number of courses in genetics and then later pursuing a post graduate qualification in cytogenetics.
Due to the technical nature of the job, having an internship at a cytogenetic laboratory or a large hospital that has cytogenetic technologists as part of its staff, increases your odds of being called up for an interview when you do apply for a full time cytogenetic technology job. As you observe other cytogenetic professionals in a real work environment during an internship, you can pick out core skills required to execute the job well and this helps avoid the costly mistakes in future.
Before you enroll for a post graduate program in cytogenetic technology, you must make certain that the institution running the program has a good industry reputation. Scan through the course program to make sure that the subject matter covered is indeed what is expected of a cytogenetic course. For instance, the program must cover cytochemistry and cytophysiology.
Note that the work of a cytogenetic technologist is not limited to a hospital setting. Many research laboratories will usually have a number of cytogenetic technologists.
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