The use of genome-wide analysis (GWA), where the entirety of an individual's DNA is examined to look for the genomic mutations or variants which can cause health problems is a massively useful technology for diagnosing disease. However, it can also pose major ethical problems if used incorrectly, say new recommendations from the European Society of Human Genetics (ESHG) published on line today (16 May 2013) in the European Journal of Human Genetics.
Many services based on whole genome and on exome* sequencing and analysis are now available to patients at an affordable price, and this raises the question of how to ensure that they are provided appropriately. "Such sequencing generates huge amounts of information that needs to be processed, analysed, and stored in a responsible manner", said Professor Martina Cornel, chair of the Professional and Public Policy Committee of ESHG. "It is preferable to use sequencing or analysis specifically targeted at a particular health problem to avoid unsolicited findings, or those that cannot yet be interpreted, which can cause considerable anxiety to patients and their families. Clear guidance on how to deal with such findings is needed."
Targeted analysis will limit such unsolicited findings, says the ESHG, and this is particularly important at present when there are only a limited number of clinicians properly trained to inform patients on the significance of the results of GWAs and exome sequencing. While the Society believes that the duty to inform patients may outweigh their right not to know in some circumstances, the new recommendations propose that analysis should be limited to genome regions linked to the clinical problem for which the analysis is being undertaken.
"We are opposed to the type of opportunistic screening that throws up large numbers of incidental results. If such results reveal a treatable or preventable condition, then clearly it is advantageous to patients to be informed ab
|Contact: Mary Rice|
European Society of Human Genetics