Genomycism – the unsubstantiated belief that the cataloging of the genomic sequence of an individual conveys useful understanding about their ancestry, current characteristics, and disease risk with high degrees of accuracy and predictive power.
An important policy forum article has appeared in the most recent issue of Science discussing the expectations for the benefits of genomics, the issues created when those expectations are unrealistic, overinflated, and over-hyped.
If we fail to evaluate the considerable promise of genomics through a realistic lens, exaggerated expectations will undermine its legitimacy (9), threaten its sustainability, and result in misallocation of resources. Fueling unrealistic expectations for predictive genetic testing and uncritical translation of discoveries may also distract our gaze from other promising approaches to preventing disease and improving health.
–James P. Evans, Eric M. Meslin, Theresa M. Marteau, and Timothy Caulfield
The authors identify several areas in which unrealistic expectations act as barriers to progress. I’ll briefly paraphrase them here, for those of you who cannot access the article (those of you who can should read their arguments in full):
- Low relative risk from individual genetic variants is not practically useful in the clinic.
- Small differences in risk for common diseases makes interventions for everyone more practical and effective than genotype specific interventions.
- Hard to make genomics-based lifestyle changes, because people don’t readily change behaviors.
- If genomic information is more effective in motivating behavior change than other medical information, then genomic misinformation may be proportionately more damaging than other medical misinformation.
- Messy translation of science from lab to clinic.
The authors conclude by suggesting that we need to reevaluate our research and funding priorities based on realistic expectations and promises for genomics.
Deflating the Genomic Bubble. J. P. Evans, E. M. Meslin, T. M. Marteau, T. Caulfield (2011). Science 331 (6019) p. 861-862. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/331/6019/861.short