September 15, 2008

Professor Warns on Genetic Testing

EXPERIMENTAL genetic tests to assess the risk of developing serious diseases could create unnecessary anxiety, a professor warns.

Prof Nilesh Samani, British Heart Foundation Chair of Cardiology at the University of Leicester, said there was a danger new tests could also provide a false sense of security for some people.

He said they had not yet undergone rigorous testing and clinical trials were needed to validate their ability to assess the risk of developing such conditions as heart disease, strokes and cancer.

The experimental tests, or genetic markers, use technology known as Genome Wide Association Studies.

This involves scanning the entire genome of healthy and diseased volunteers to pinpoint key differences in the DNA likely to contribute to a certain disease.

The professor is due to give a talk on the topic today at the annual meeting of the British Society for Human Genetics at the University of York.

He said: "Even a battery of 5-10 genetic markers for the disease is unlikely to be sufficient to tell the patient whether they will actually develop the disease, when they will develop it, or whether lifestyle changes could prevent them from developing it.

"On the other hand, since having a 'low' risk variant of a gene doesn't mean 'no' risk, there is a real danger that some patients might gain a false sense of security."

Prof Samani said genetic markers could usefully identify people who would benefit from preventative treatment.

(c) 2008 The Journal - Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.