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Does Genetic Knowledge Matter?

Thursday, 31 May 2012 12:24 PM

New research by Harvard School of Public Health researchers is casting doubt on the idea that knowing a patient’s detailed personal genetic makeup can significantly improve the ability to predict the likelihood of developing certain diseases.
Not yet, anyway.
The study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, suggests far more progress in basic research and testing is needed before genetic information can actually help doctors prevent or treat certain conditions in their patients.
"Overall, our findings suggest that the potential complexity of genetic and environmental factors related to disease will have to be understood on a much larger scale than initially expected to be useful for risk prediction," said lead researcher Hugues Aschard, in a Harvard news release. "The road to efficient genetic risk prediction, if it exists, is likely to be long."
Scientists have long hoped that using genetic information can pave the way for “personalized” health care that takes an individual’s particular biology into account. Some have been skeptical about the idea, while others have suggested such approaches may be possible in the future.
Aschard and his colleagues examined whether genetic information could improve disease risk prediction for breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. But, using statistical models, they found genetic information only changed estimated disease prediction by a few percentage points. That’s not enough to make a difference in prevention or treatment plans.
For breast cancer, the researchers considered 15 genetic variations associated with the disease and other factors such as age of first menstruation and familial risks. For type 2 diabetes, they looked at 31 genetic variations along with factors such as obesity, physical activity and family history. For rheumatoid arthritis, they also included 31 genetic variations, as well as two environmental factors: smoking and breastfeeding.
But, for each of the diseases, researchers calculated the increase in risk prediction accuracy — when considering genetic and environmental factors — would only be between 1 percent and 3 percent at best.
"For most people, your doctor's advice before seeing your genetic test for a particular disease will be exactly the same as after seeing your tests," researchers said.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.

© HealthDay

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New study casts doubt on the idea that genetic testing can accurately predict disease risks.
Thursday, 31 May 2012 12:24 PM
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