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Brave New World of Genetics Requires Safeguards, Experts Say

WEDNESDAY, May 30 (HealthDay News) -- Advancements in human genetic research could lead to improved patient care, but safeguards are needed to protect against the misuse of people's genetic data, the American Heart Association says.

The association offers several policy recommendations, including U.S. government oversight of genetic tests to assure quality and expansion of anti-discrimination legislation.

While discoveries in recent years -- such as the mapping of the entire human genetic code and new accelerated gene-sequencing techniques -- have led to cheaper and more readily available genetic tests, regulations have not kept pace.

"The potential of the new technologies is incredible," Dr. Euan Ashley, chair of the genetics policy statement writing group, said in an association news release. Ashley is also an assistant professor of medicine and director of the Center for Inherited Cardiovascular Disease at Stanford University School of Medicine.

"Genetic testing provides a tremendous opportunity but also a challenge in being responsible with that information," Ashley said. "If the information is available, how best do we use it to really improve care for individual patients?"

The policy statement focuses on heart and blood vessel diseases. Along with the previously mentioned proposals, it also suggests:

  • Genetic testing and counseling in specialized centers.
  • Increased funding for clinical research in genetics.
  • More studies examining the association between genetics and heart and blood vessel disease risk.
  • Genetic education for health care providers and patients.
  • In-depth research of genetically influenced responses to drugs.
  • Awarding no more patents on genetic discoveries.

"The safeguards are essential for patients in a new age of medicine. This is an unbelievable time in genetics," Ashley said. "The pace of change has been astounding. You can imagine a world now where every patient might have their genome in the medical record, and the doctor might be able to simply look it up when prescribing medication."

The recommendations are published May 29 in the journal Circulation.

More information

The U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute has more about genetics and genomics.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, May 29, 2012

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