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Jeremy Laurance: Genetic Risk Profiling May Be Harmful If Nothing Can Be Done

Publication Date: 
April 30, 2010
The Independent
Jeremy Laurance

Professor Hank Greely is mentioned in this editorial piece on the risks of mapping the human genome for personalized medicine. Jeremy Laurance of The Independents comments:

For a man about to learn whether he was under a death sentence, Stephen Quake was remarkably cool. Asked how he felt about receiving a detailed breakdown of his chances of developing any one of 55 diseases he replied: "It's certainly been interesting."

How typical of a scientist. But those of us who are not scientists may have a different response. Analysis of your genome could reveal you were carrying a gene for Huntingdon's disease, a condition that kills people in their 20s and for which there is no treatment. Would there be benefit in that?


In an opinion piece published with the paper in The Lancet, Professor Henry Greely of Stanford Law School estimates the average person might need information on 100 genetic risks uncovered in analysis of their genome. Even if only three minutes per disorder is allowed, the consultation would take more than five hours, not including the background research. How can this be provided and who will pay for it?

Whole genome sequencing is already occurring and will soon be used in medical practice. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle. But dealing with the new technology will present many challenges. It is time to start thinking how to deal with them now.