Guest Blog – Wayne Hall weighs in on Genomic Screening

Professor Wayne Hall commented on the ‘modest’ impacts of population genomic screening in October last year in the prestigious PLoS journal (open access, yeah!!)

After reading last Friday’s BJSM blog relating to Prof Tim Caulfield’s ‘Deflating the Genomics Bubble’ paper in Science,’ Prof  Hall provided this first-hand background story to his PLoS paper:

The aim of our paper was to encourage advocates of population genomic screening to be more appropriately modest about its likely impacts on population health. We were prompted to write the article by the advocacy of genetic screening of whole populations for susceptibility to common diseases. This advocacy continues despite a failure of GWAs to identify major susceptibility alleles for most common diseases and prospective studies showing that genomic risk information rarely improves on phenotypic information in predicting disease risk.

We wanted to draw genomics advocates’ attention to the lack of evidence in support of key assumptions underlying their approach, namely, that there are cost-effective interventions for the minority of the population who screen at high genetic risk for these diseases; that genetic risk prediction and intervention is more cost-effective than population level interventions that aim to reduce exposure to known risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, risky alcohol consumption, a lack of exercise and poor diet; or that genetic risk information will motivate the behaviour change required to reduce disease risk. We were also concerned to discuss the ways in which genomic risk information may be misused by the alcohol, food, and tobacco industries to undermine effective public health policies.

The paper in PLoS is freely available – click here!

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