With a Ph.D. in genetics or a related subject it is possible to pursue a career in gene therapy by becoming a medical scientist or postsecondary biological science teacher. Medical scientists can also opt to pursue a medical degree before entering the field of gene therapy.
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||Ph.D. or M.D. degree||Ph.D. degree in genetics or a related discipline|
|Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)*||6%||9% for postsecondary biological science teachers|
|Median Annual Salary (2020)*||$91,510||$85,600 for postsecondary biological science teachers|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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.
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 faster than average increase of 6% increase in medical scientist jobs between 2019-2029 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 2020 was $91,510 annually.
Gene therapy is still in a state of infancy, and professors are needed to train the next generation of researchers and practitioners. The overall growth rate for postsecondary biological science teachers projected by the BLS for 2019-2029 is 9%. This indicates a much higher-than-average demand for postsecondary biological science teachers. The BLS reported that the median annual salaries earned by biological science professors were $85,600 in 2020, 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 Doctor of Medicine (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
- Biotechnology sciences
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.
Gene therapy involves inserting genetic material into cells to repair a genetic problem, deformity or health issue. Medical scientists may perform this procedure, while postsecondary biological science teachers may instruct students preparing for a career in gene therapy.