A new study suggests that the results of genetic tests are not always as reliable as we want to believe. A comparison between laboratories providing these tests shows that the same genetic variant can be interpreted differently.
A single gene variant can thus be interpreted as an increased risk of breast cancer by one laboratory, but as no increased risk by another.
Given that the results of genetic tests can motivate a person to undergo, or not undergo, preventive surgery, this is quite alarming.
Genetic risks are not literally written in our genes. They require interpreting the significance of different genetic variants. The interpretation requires research that can show whether the variant is associated with increased risk of disease or not.
Most variants cannot be interpreted at all. Many are so rare that there is no data to even begin interpreting their meaning.
If I understand correctly, interpretations differ partly because laboratories do not always share their data. Their interpretations are based on limited studies using their own data. Such studies may point in different directions.
In addition to emphasizing the importance of open data, all this shows that we cannot take genetic tests or effective healthcare for granted. They require ongoing research work with large amounts of data.
We easily neglect this: how research continuously underpins healthcare.
But even with better interpretations of genetic tests, it will be difficult to interpret what the results mean for the individual.
Genetic risk continues to be a complex concept.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.