Gene Therapy Jobs: Career Options and Education Requirements

Gene therapy can be used to treat various medical ailments and may help diseased organs to function better. Continue reading for an overview of the majors as well as employment statistics and salary info related to some career options for graduates.

Essential Information

Gene therapy is the technique of inserting genetic material into existing cells to correct a genetic problem, health issue, or deformity. This type of work is currently in the experimental stage and most gene therapists work on research projects or in academia. Due to the field's delicate and controversial nature, the scientific community recruits only highly-trained individuals with extensive educational backgrounds in their fields that culminate in doctoral degrees.

Career Title Medical Scientists Postsecondary Teachers
Education Requirements A Ph.D. or M.D. degree A Ph.D. degree in genetics or a related discipline
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)* 13% 19% for postsecondary biological science teachers
Median Annual Salary (2013)* $79,840 $75,740 for postsecondary biological science teachers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Individuals who want to work in the area of gene therapy and who have earned relevant doctoral degrees can create careers in the areas of research or teaching. More specifically, they might become medical scientists or postsecondary teachers.

Medical Scientists

Gene therapists are medical scientists who are primarily employed for research projects by universities, hospitals, and drug companies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipated a 13% increase in medical scientist jobs between 2012-2022 due to the increasing interest in biomedical technology for a variety of diseases (www.bls.gov). Some health conditions being tested with gene therapy include HIV, numerous cancers, heart disease, and age-related illnesses, such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

Medical and pharmacological developments must be submitted to the FDA, which examines each proposal closely and weighs it against safety, benefit and ethical concerns before granting approval. The FDA hires gene therapy researchers to perform feasibility studies on proposed gene therapy projects. Scientists and medical professionals that conduct gene therapy trials on humans must be licensed doctors with a medical degree. The BLS reported the median salaries for medical scientists in 2013 was $79,840 annually.

Postsecondary Teachers

Gene therapy is still in a state of infancy, and professors are needed to train the next generation of researchers and practitioners. Though the overall growth rate for college professors projected by the BLS may not be as high as that for researchers, the expected 19% increase between 2012-2022 indicates a higher-than-average demand for postsecondary teachers, including those in the biological sciences. The reported that the median annual salaries earned by biological science professors were $75,740 in 2013, according to the BLS.

Gene Therapy Career Education Requirements

Gene therapists require a Ph.D. to conduct research. Those working directly with patients must also complete a Medical Doctor (M.D.) degree and become licensed through the state in which they practice. Specific degree programs in gene therapy exist, though other fields of study that incorporate gene therapy education include:

  • Molecular and cellular biology
  • Immunology
  • Biotechnology sciences
  • Genetics
  • Neuroscience

Post-doctoral research can be found in medical laboratories and academic facilities under the guidance of experienced researchers and scientists. Research opportunities, residency programs and fellowships offer practical experience in gene therapy and allow doctors and physicians the chance to specialize in a particular field of medicine.

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