The Genetizen

Genetizen

Advances in genetics and biotechnology are impacting society in provocative ways. The Genetizen is written by a select group of scientists, bioethicists, and healthcare professionals who provide you with expert analysis and commentary on many important issues.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in blog postings may or may not reflect the opinions of Geneforum. In addition, the content provided here is purely informational and not a substitute for advice from your personal physician.



New multi-gene test for predicting breast cancer probability

The United Press International posted a news article today stating that a U.S. biotech firm has launched "the first genetic-based, breast-cancer-risk test to the global market.

According to the news release,

The test, to be sold as OncoVue, uses a patient's personal history and gene-based information to determine future breast-cancer risk.

"OncoVue has undergone over seven years of research, and the genetic information for this test came from the testing of over 8,000 women with and without breast cancer from five geographic regions of the United States, giving us the support to introduce the test to an international market." said Craig Shimasaki, InterGenetics' chief executive officer and president.

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Personalized medicine is possible, but is it likely?

I found an interesting article in the Feb. 27th issue of the Arizona Republic that suggests that genetic testing used for adpating treatment to an individual person is still a ways off and--perhaps--may only be another way of separating those with money from those without. The author, Ken Alltucker, starts as follows:

Genes can be powerful predictors of a person's future health problems, but testing a patient's genes to tailor treatment strategies remains at the cutting edge of health care and legal professions.

The promise behind personalized medicine is that genetic tests can be used to craft ways to detect, treat or delay disease. Yet using genetic tests to tailor health care strategies is rarely done. These tests are too expensive for the typical patient, and many doctors aren't trained properly to administer, assess or use the tests for patient care.

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Dolly's anniversary--Is human cloning still a realistic fear?

I missed the 10-year anniversary of Dolly-the-sheep's birth last week (on the 21st of February). Maybe you did, too. Wonder what happened to the supposed cloned babies born to the alien-spawned wierdos?

Anyway, cloning--we learn in a free article from Nature online--"is beginning to change tact."

But as the decade passed and a menagerie of other mammals was cloned , no cloned human babies appeared. What did occur, and what moved the ethical debate in an unforeseen direction, was the isolation of human embryonic stem-cell lines by James Thomson and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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Mitt Romney and stem cell research

In at least one of the sources I read about Romney's latest speech on stem cells, he was quoted as supporting the stem cell lines "approved" by President Bush in 2001. Romney stated that these lines did not come from embryos. Thus, presumably, they didn't violate his anti-abortion position.

Mr. Romney, you're wrong. The approved stem cell lines--the ones identified by Bush as being created before August 2001--ARE embryonic stem cell lines. They were derived from embryos "discarded" by families who did not want to use them for implantation and possible development into a human being.

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Genetic testing sheds light on degenerative eye disesase

Now, here's a genetic test I would be very interested in and would be willing to pay for. My mother and her sister both have lost much of their eyesight to macular degeneration. I thought there was just "wet" and "dry" macular degneration and, frankly, have been avoiding the issue because I greatly fear blindness.

I learned today in an article in Science Daily (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070213173952.htm) that at least four genes identified for varieties of macular degeneration and genetic tests already exist. Also, treatments are being approved now that might be helpful to me. I already have my eye exams yearly, including a retinal examination. And I know that treatments are being tested and approved. Now, it may be time for me to decide whether to have genetic testing and, if so, where to have it done.

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The art of crafting headlines

Today's Google alert for genetics provides over 30 headlines from online services and newspapers around the world trying to get people to read an article about Kaiser--the big insurance company--and its plans to build a monster DNA database from genetic material donated by 2 million people in Northern California.

As often happens, the headlines vary from the plain facts to the extraordinary promises we often see in the field of genetics:

"Kaiser launches genetics study" is the simple title in healthdecisions.org, the Washington Post, Business Week, Houston Chronicle and others.

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Biological weaponry

A discussion of biological weaponry (BW), including how advances in the biosciences greatly expand the possible types of weapons far beyond the traditional use of infectious agents and biological toxins, represents a new direction for discussion within Geneforum.

In one sense, this is not a topic of immediate relevance in the world, that is, nobody, save perhaps for a few misguided souls, seems to be trying to use them. At least as far as we know. And it is known, or strongly suspected, that a number of countries are still developing offensive weapons, including at least one of the staunchest allies of the United States. The Biological Weapons Convention entered into force in 1975 and has been ratified by most (with a few notable exceptions) countries of the world.

read more | bkz's blog

Ways to protect people from discrimination based on genetic information

Michael Hill, in a recently released story in the Baltimore Sun, provides a series of questions and answers about genetic discrimination. The answers come from Karen Rothenberg, dean of the University of Maryland's School of Law and founding director of the school's Law and Health Care program. Last week, she testified in Washington before a House subcommittee considering a bill designed to protect workers from discrimination by employers and insurers on the basis of genetic information.

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Introducing Your Stories

Geneforum announces a new mode of interaction--the personal story. We already have three stories posted--each is different in content, subject, and length. Tomorrow, another story will be posted and several days later, another.

All these stories have one thing in common--they all deal with people's personal experiences with genetics. Vern, a student in a class at Portland State University, volunteered to have his DNA tested for the presence of a hemochromatosis gene. His story tells us what happened in the testing and how he dealt with the results.

A parent of a child conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF) tells about the problems they had identifying the problem with their child--finally pegged as a de novo deletion (a new removal of some DNA bases) of the type known as ISCI.

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Arguments against the genetic nondiscrimination bills

A new bill recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would prohibit employers from making hiring/firing and promotional decisions based on genetic information showing a worker may contract a disease in the future, and would also prevent health plans from denying coverage or charging higher premiums using those same genetic tea leaves. (United Press International in today's online newspaper)

The article, in addition to providing reasons for the bill, supplies a good summary of the reasons some legislators are against the bill known as GINA (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act). Here are some of the statements in Laura Gilchrist's article, Analysis: Genes and job discrimination.

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Senate committee to review genetic nondiscrimination

Tomorrow (January 31) at 10 am EST, the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will "mark-up" the Senate version of the genetic nondiscrimination bill discussed today by a House committee. Word from the rumor mill is that the meeting will be open to the public. I don't know whether it will be broadcast on t.v.

You can check out the text of each of the bills by going to http://thomas.loc.gov/ and searching for H. R. 493 for the House and S. 358 for the Senate.

I wrote to my Utah Representative, Rob Bishop, about the bill in the House and he called me tonight with some questions. I hope my answers were helpful to him.

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Faces of Genetic Discrimination

See the attached article (28 pages long) for stories on people who have faced genetic discrimination.

Marie Godfrey, PhD

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Could you face genetic discrimination?

Tomorrow (January 30), at 10:30 am EST, the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions will hold a hearing on The Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). If your Representative is not yet a sponsor of the bill--as mine is not--you may want to join me and encourage that person to sign on.

The list of sponsors can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:HR00493:@@@P%5d. This particular bill is even supported by President Bush. Details are available at http://www.geneticfairness.org/act.html

You can call (best option) or send an e-mail to your Representative. The time it takes is well worth it. Here are some details of interest--taken directly from the information provided by the Coalition for Genetic Fairness:

Why We Need GINA

1) We are all affected.

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The commercial side of stem cell R & D

Yesterday, I wondered what has been happening in stem cell research and development (R & D) during the past few years. Today, I was reading about a stem cell conference to be held in San Diego in February and found a Stem Cell Market Analysis Fact Sheet. The document is intended for investors, physicians, and comapnies involved in stem cell research.

Consistent with my self-imposed rule of not advertising specific companies, I won't name any here; but I will post the entire fact sheet in the Stem Cell Forum section of the website. You can find it by searching for "stem cell market analysis" from the home page. I'm intentionally not providing a link here.

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Stem cells hot again

The US House of Representatives passed a bill January 24th very much like last year's bill to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cells derived from embryos that might otherwise be discarded.

The usual rhetoric reined on the Hill. The only development identified as new was the recognition that stem cells have now been derived from amniotic fluid. These cells presumably come from the developing embryo and would thus be as "potent" as any embryonic stem cell.

Again, we're into rhetoric and into the subject I am accused of always focusing on--words. In this case, the questions are two:

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