Genes and Health

Genes and Health section

Is genetic testing good for health? Will gene therapy one day correct our faulty genes and eliminate disease? Some genetic tests can be useful, but genes are poor predictors of common diseases in most people. Read about the limitations of a genetic approach to our health problems.

Eric Lander (who played a key role in the Human Genome Project) has written an article in Nature which recognises that "there are likely to be fundamental limits on precise [genetic risk] prediction due to the complex architecture of common traits, including common variants of tiny effect, rare variants that cannot be fully enumerated and complex epistatic interactions, as well as many non-genetic factors". Lander also recognises that some of the missing heritability of common diseases and traits "may simply be an illusion": as GeneWatch has argued.

Read GeneWatch's history of the claims that everyone should have their genome sequenced to allow common diseases to be predicted and prevented. An article in Newsweek explains the latest scientific papers showing that genes are poor predictors of such diseases.

The Huffington Post has reported a discussion initiated by the Bioscience Resource Project asking whether genes for disease are a mirage.

As more evidence accumulates, more scientists are questioning claims that genes play a central role in health and behaviour. Read the blog by Arto Annila and Keith Baverstock and visit the BioscienceResource Project.

For a discussion of policy issues around plans to sequence the genomes of whole populations, read the reports of the EU project PACITA on public health genomics here.

Widely reported claims in a 2010 that genes are highly predictive of longevity were implausible because they were based on too small a sample of people and neglected the overwhelming importance of environment in lifespan. Newsweek has now reported some technical problems with the study.

Clinical trial results show that genetic testing for drug response is of little use in deciding the dose of the blood thinning drug warfarin. Claims that these tests would benefit patients have been used to seek to justify plans to sequence everybody's genomes.

The Wall Street Journal has reported how screening for genetic disorders can cause problems, including anxiety and unnecessary treatment, for patients who have genetic mutations but no symptoms of disease.

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