Human Genome: Not a Cure-All
Analysis by Marianne English
Wed Feb 23, 2011 10:33 AM ET
Amid celebrations of the 10-year anniversary of the Human Genome Project, a team of researchers says both scientists and journalists are guilty of hyping the potential of genome sequencing.
In short, they want to burst our "genomic bubble."
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The researchers write that long-term "exaggerated expectations will undermine [the field's] legitimacy," in a report commentary in the journal Science.
They make other points as well:
* Using a person's genome to assess his or her risk for disease can be tricky, they say. The authors cite Crohn's disease as an example, claiming that roughly one out of every 1,000 people in the United States is at risk of developing the disease. What would it mean if a person found out his risk was one in every 500 or one in every 2,000? The numbers may not help patients and doctors make meaningful decisions.
* For many diseases, a range of genes play a role, not just a single gene. Genes aren't static and can be influenced by a variety of internal and external factors. Human health is complex and truly understanding it will take more time.
* Changing people's behaviors remains another road block, the researchers claim. If patients have a decreased risk of developing a disease, this might give them a false sense of security and cause them to act reckless in other ways.
* Researchers are also uneasy about genome technologies that quickly move from bench to consumers as seen in companies such as 23andMe and Pathway Genomics.
* Not all genomic knowledge is translatable, and more powerful diagnostic tools are still years down the road.
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Ultimately, the authors believe more funding should focus on behavioral and social science research to address America's top health issues, including obesity.
If you're interested in reading the Human Genome Project's comments, check out its new strategic plan in the journal Nature.
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