Genetic Counselor Joins Medical Advisory Board

hampel_heather headshotLong before Angelina Jolie gripped the American public’s attention by announcing her double mastectomy due to a genetic mutation, Fight Colorectal Cancer had been educating patients about family histories, plus supporting and reporting research advances in genetics—especially Lynch syndrome.

One of our most reliable sources for patient information and webinars  has been Heather Hampel, MS, CGC, a genetic counselor for 18 years, and Associate Director of the Division of Human Genetics at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.

We’re proud to announce that Heather Hampel is now an official member of our Medical Advisory Board. She first became aware of Fight Colorectal Cancer years ago when the late Kate Murphy, (one of our founders and Research Communications Director, who survived 30 years with Lynch syndrome) “introduced me to this group that was doing awesome work.”

Hampel is a nationally known and respected researcher in colorectal cancer genetics as first author of articles in both the New England Journal of Medicine and Cancer Research; she has served on editorial boards of many genetics journals; she is former President of the American Board of Genetic Counselors; and serves on panel overseeing national colorectal cancer screening guidelines for NCCN (National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the world’s leading cancer centers).

Fittingly for our Medical Advisory Board, Hampel complements her academic research by keeping one foot firmly planted in direct patient care, spending one day a week counseling patients and families. As a genetic counselor, her role is to explain complex science and help families make informed, deeply personal decisions about genetic testing and medical treatments.

Lifelong path to be genetic counselor  

Heather Hampel decided at age 12 that she wanted to be a genetic counselor, when her pregnant mother had to decide about having an amniocentesis. As a high-school sophomore, Hampel challenged her favorite biology teacher: “In this teeny town of Ohio, let’s see them find someone for me to job-shadow who does genetics.” She was sent to a local university where a pediatrician allowed her to sit in on a genetic counseling session with a pregnant woman, husband, and the woman’s brother who had Hemophilia as they discussed whether the woman should be tested. “I was hooked,” Hampel said.

After getting a degree in molecular biology at Ohio State University, she ventured to New York City for Sarah Lawrence College’s graduate school—the nation’s first and still largest Master’s degree program in genetic counseling. With New York City as a melting pot for all nationalities, it’s the perfect place to study genetics in different populations—and it was home to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute, one of fewer than five medical centers in the U.S. doing cancer genetics counseling in the mid-1990s. “It was an incredibly exciting time: six months before I started, they’d found the first breast cancer gene (BRAC1), and six months later, they found the second.” Hampel’s early research work was with the Ashkenazi Jewish population which had a specific inherited mutation for colon cancer.

Balancing research with patient care

From graduate school, she went directly to Memorial Sloan Kettering where she started a work-pattern that continues to this day of combined academic research and clinical practice. When she wanted to move back to Ohio to be nearer family, it happened to be the very moment that Ohio State University recruited the  world-famous genetic researcher Albert de la Chapelle (known for his Finnish work in colon cancer genetics) to start its Human Cancer Genetics Program.

Fifteen years later, Hampel will be helping to start a training program for genetic counselors at OSU. In her 18 years of genetic counseling, Hampel has seen genetic medicine change from a day when there were no tests for Lynch syndrome or tumor genetic analyses, to today’s explosion of discoveries, even ads for people to buy their own self-test kits. The need for reliable, up-to-date, useful genetic information has never been greater.

We at Fight Colorectal Cancer are privileged to have Hampel as a member of our Medical Advisory Board.

For more information about genetics, family history, Lynch Syndrome: