Intended for healthcare professionals


Putting genetics in perspective

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 28 April 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:1005

Requires better understanding and more rational debate

  1. Ron Zimmern, director (,
  2. Jon Emery, clinical lecturer (,
  3. Tessa Richards, associate editor (
  1. Public Health Genetics Unit, Strangeways Research Laboratory, Cambridge CB1 8RN
  2. General Practice and Primary Care Research Unit, Institute of Public Health, Cambridge CB2 2SR
  3. BMJ

    How will genetics affect society? Is it a science without clear application, or will it bring important health gains? Should we be hugely excited about its potential or worry about the ethical dilemmas it poses? Unquestionably views are polarised, 1 2 as this special issue of the BMJ reflects.

    The impact on health and health care of the sequencing of the human genome has been well rehearsed.3 Our understanding and categorisation of disease will be enhanced. Drug therapy may become safer and more effective as treatments are tailored to take account of individual responses to drugs. Genetic tests will increasingly be used to predict the risk of disease and initiate preventive action. Drug development will become faster and more efficient.

    Yet hidden among these simple statements lurks great complexity. Extrapolating from single gene disorders such as Huntington's disease to predict how genetics might affect future health care will mislead. In this disorder the detection of an abnormal variant or mutation in the …

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