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Gattaca, g’bye. Knowing more about your genes may not predict disease risk

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From “Knowing genetic makeup may not significantly improve disease risk prediction” (Eurekalert, 24-May-2012), we learn,

Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers have found that detailed knowledge about your genetic makeup—the interplay between genetic variants and other genetic variants, or between genetic variants and environmental risk factors—may only change your estimated disease prediction risk for three common diseases by a few percentage points, which is typically not enough to make a difference in prevention or treatment plans. It is the first study to revisit claims in previous research that including such information in risk models would eventually help doctors either prevent or treat diseases.

Ah yes, “revisit.” Replicability. Reproducibility. Much more of that needs to be done these days, it seems.

It was a simulation study that generated a broad range of possible statistical interactions between common gene risks and common environment exposures for breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. And

for each of these disease models, researchers calculated that the increase in risk prediction sensitivity—when considering the potential interplay between various genetic and environmental factors—would only be between 1% and 3% 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,” added Kraft.

Which makes sense. Smoking, for example, is bad for everyone, but differentially so, depending no doubt in part on genes. No matter what the gene results say, our doctors will not advise us to begin smoking.

Note: Compare these types of findings with Rchsard Dawkins’ genetic fundamentalism, on display here.


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