Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Medical Geneticists Cautions Against Rushing Into Genetic Testing

Date:
June 3, 2008
Source:
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Summary:
Just because scientific advances now allow individuals to learn their genetic make-up doesn't mean they should rush into genetic testing in hopes of making revolutionary improvements to their health, cautions a geneticist and practicing physician.

Just because scientific advances now allow individuals to learn their genetic make-up doesn't mean they should rush into genetic testing in hopes of making revolutionary improvements to their health, cautions a geneticist and practicing physician at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"From a basic science perspective, the advances being made in genomics are important discoveries, but it's unrealistic for individuals to believe those advances can yield meaningful information that will improve their health," said James P. Evans, M.D., Ph.D., professor of genetics and medicine in the UNC School of Medicine. "And even saying 'It's not there yet' is too optimistic. It's going to be a long time before the potential is realized."

Evans, who is also the director of the cancer and adult genetics clinics and the Bryson Program in Human Genetics in UNC's medical genetics department, will talk about how personal genomics will affect human lives at a panel discussion titled "Your Biological Biography" at the World Science Festival being held in New York City, May 28 to June 1.

"The sequencing of the human genome revealed that in relative terms, humans are 99.9 percent the same," Evans said. "But in absolute terms, we are very different. For example, a one-thousandth of a difference in their respective DNA profiles translates into more than 3 million differences between any two unrelated individuals."

Some of these differences are medically relevant, in that they influence disease predisposition and response to drugs, areas Evans studies in his research. And the differences are of interest in non-medical ways, specifically when they address ancestry, behavior traits and the innate curiosity humans have about their genes.

Sequencing of the human genome, which was completed in 2003, also gave rise to commercial entities offering direct-to-consumer genetic testing for a fee, usually between $1,000 and $3,000. Evans worries that individuals may seek such testing with the false hope that they will get meaningful results regarding their risks for disease and actionable medical advice about how to decrease their risks.

"Much of the current excitement about genetics and medical genomics is predicated on the idea that knowing our genomes better will improve our health," Evans said. "In fact, for the vast majority of such risk assessments, the increased risk of an individual developing the disease in question is modest -- one- to two-fold over baseline. And in few such conditions are there specific effective interventions to diminish the risk. Further, there is little evidence that having the specific genetic information would actually induce a change in lifestyle."

Society has tended to place an almost mystical association on genetic information, Evans said, adding that what to do with this new knowledge and how to interpret the information presents many unanswered challenges.

"Most physicians, by their own admission, are not geneticists and won't know what to do with the information," said Evans, who uses family history and genetic testing to evaluate and counsel patients about their risk for cancer. "Many who do understand the technology and how it is generated don't know what to do with it. So there's huge potential for patient harm -- either for patients to be lulled into a false sense of security by this new genomic information or, in the opposite extreme, to have unnecessarily increased anxiety."

And Evans said he can see even more extreme measures "where interventions are implemented -- for example, a total body scan -- that put patients on a road to invasive tests that they are better off not getting."

Evans believes these challenges say something about how humans value information, but then fail to scrutinize what it really means. "It's hard for me to over-estimate the beauty and utter significance of sequencing the human genome and other animal genomes," Evans said. "The technology is very promising for all of us, but there is a big gap between having that knowledge and applying it for the betterment of human health."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Medical Geneticists Cautions Against Rushing Into Genetic Testing." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 June 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080531185843.htm>.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2008, June 3). Medical Geneticists Cautions Against Rushing Into Genetic Testing. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080531185843.htm
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Medical Geneticists Cautions Against Rushing Into Genetic Testing." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080531185843.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Artificial Sweetener Could Promote Diabetes

Artificial Sweetener Could Promote Diabetes

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) Doctors once thought artificial sweeteners lacked the health risks of sugar, but a new study says they can impact blood sugar levels the same way. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Vaccine Trial Gets Underway at Oxford University

Ebola Vaccine Trial Gets Underway at Oxford University

AFP (Sep. 17, 2014) A healthy British volunteer is to become the first person to receive a new vaccine for the Ebola virus after US President Barack Obama called for action against the epidemic and warned it was "spiralling out of control." Duration: 01:02 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obesity Rates Steady Even As Americans' Waistlines Expand

Obesity Rates Steady Even As Americans' Waistlines Expand

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) Researchers are puzzled as to why obesity rates remain relatively stable as average waistlines continue to expand. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
President To Send 3,000 Military Personnel To Fight Ebola

President To Send 3,000 Military Personnel To Fight Ebola

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) President Obama is expected to send 3,000 troops to West Africa as part of the effort to contain Ebola's spread. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins