Debating personal genomics at the AAAS

Over the past decade, it’s become easier and cheaper for individuals to analyze their own genome. In 2003, a complete genome sequence cost about $3 billion and took many weeks to sequence. Currently, several companies and medical facilities provide individual genetic testing services for under $6,000, and private companies provide partial genome sequencing for only $99.

The reasons for getting a genome sequenced varies between individuals, but from a health perspective, it may provide a myriad of new possibilities and solutions in disease prevention and lifestyle choices.

Some believe that the more information one can collect on genetic traits, environment, and personal history, the more valuable this data may be in guiding personal choices to reduce health risks.

However, at the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston, a panel of scientists debated the actual benefits of genomic sequencing for medical research and clinical practice. Some argued that the dangers and uncertainty of genetic testing outweighed the positive benefits.

Robert Green, a professor of Neurology, Genetics, and Epidemiology at Harvard University argued that physicians and other health care professionals have little understanding or experience in applying information about a person’s entire genome to risk prediction for complex diseases. It only benefits a small subset of patients, he said, so it should only be used to diagnose specific diseases.

James Evans, a Professor of Genetics and Medicine at the University of North Carolina was even more skeptical about the uncertainty of genomics. He didn’t believe that everyone should have a copy of his or her own genome because of the challenges of interpretation.

Evans argued that we must set “defined and rigorous criteria for the interpretation of genomic data so as to avoid the substantial harm that can occur from false positive results.”

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