The genetic check-up, between promises and fantasies

Publié le : 5 April 2013

 Today, the "genetic check-up" enables us to know our entire genome, and "Prof. Kahn fears that the current slide towards personalized medicine, based on the individual biological characteristics of patients, will lead to the ‘completely mad illusion whereby we will be able to know everything about the future’."     

But these worries concern above all "the commercial use of genetic prediction tests." The article points out that "by using a technique called broadband sequencing, it is henceforth possible in less than a day to analyse the entire genome of an individual. All for less than $1,000." Laurent Alexandre, chairman of DNAVision, a company providing this genetic analysis service, says that "this will drop to $100. […] Nobody had foreseen this development." While this service is interesting for researchers, it is not so sure that it is equally interesting for citizens: "knowing that one risks growing bald at 30 is one thing, but living with the sword of Damocles of a serious illness on the way is quite another thing." Moreover, "the confusion between probability and prediction is […] frequent." Prof. Syrota explains that "each person possesses a particular genetic heritage but the genes are simply likely to increase or reduce the risk factors for illnesses, including rare diseases.

But for many industrial firms, "the conquest of the genetic heritage of individuals is already a reality." Dr Catherine Bourgain, a researcher in human genetics and statistics at Inserm, asks: "why do you think that two outstanding companies which five years ago launched themselves on the market for measuring the genetic risk of individuals have been acquired for a huge price except to take control of the databases that they have built up?
"Whatever the case, [the journalist points out], the genetic check-up could become commonplace in France without any public debate taking place," and there are two possibilities: "Either it is regarded as the logical prolongation of genetic counselling, already widely practised when there is a family-related risk of serious illness. Or it remains restricted to specialists or vigilant MPs." However, he adds, "what will happen when we can carry out the genetic check-up of a foetus with a simple blood sample from the mother in the first three months of pregnancy?" and "while abortion is still possible" adds Dr Laurent Alexandre. On this subject, the journalist mentions, as a warning, that "there still has been no debate in France concerning the new test, of the same type, intended only to screen for Down syndrome and authorised in Switzerland [in summer 2012]," as well as in Germany. He also points out that "during the last public hearing of OPECST [the Parliamentary Office for Evaluating Scientific and Technological Choices], Dr Laurent Alexandre spoke out against ‘the direct access of the public to the sequencing of their genome without medical intermediary‘, and mentioned that he himself had to "face up to some bad news when he carried out an analysis of his complete genome." The chairman of DNAVision revealed: "I have three bad variants. […] If I was going to have children today I would have my wife’s genome sequenced.” And the journalist adds: "the day when scientists will advise against marriage based on genetic comparison is perhaps not so far off."

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