New BSR Resource Page: Human Genetic Predispositions – the hidden politics of genomic science

Most modern medical research assumes that inherited genetic predispositions underlie the current epidemics of (non-infectious) diseases and disorders. A partial list includes type II diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autism, various mental illnesses, myopia, and stroke. Historically, this genetic determinist paradigm in medicine was driven by tobacco industry funding. The industry calculated it could deflect public blame for the lung cancer epidemic away from tobacco and onto personal ‘genetic weaknesses’, e.g., putative ‘lung cancer genes’ and ‘addiction genes’. The main evidence that supports the existence of such gene variants has been experiments known as twin studies. However, there are good reasons to believe that twin studies are a flawed methodology that vastly overestimates genetic contributions.

The resources on the new Human Genetic Predispositions – the hidden politics of genomic science page reveal the unscientific origins and consequent scientific failure of the gene-focused disease paradigm. Resources are organized by topic. The first is The Political Role of Human Genetic Research. This is followed by articles showing how Twin Studies Create Misleading Heritability Estimates. These estimates led to the creation and subsequent Failure of the Common Disease-Common Variant (CD-CV) Hypothesis. The CD-CV hypothesis was that a few common gene variants (i.e. mutations) would be responsible for each disease. Its proponents assumed that genetic screening for key variants would identify those at risk of disease and that variant identification would lead to new treatments. Researchers subsequently carried out thousands of genome-wide (GWA) and candidate gene (CGA) association studies to identify these variants. However, both theoretical and experimental Mistakes Were Made with GWA and CGA Studies. The results of such studies are almost entirely non-reproducible and their findings have not supported the CD-CV hypothesis, nor do they support a major role for genetics in common diseases.

Challenging the current gene-centered paradigm, many researchers have asked How Much Can Genomics and Genetic Testing Benefit Public Health? They and others suggest instead a focus on Preventing and Treating Complex Diseases by addressing known causes such as poor diet, lack of exercise, poverty, and pollution. It is time for the common understanding of The Biological Role of DNA to be updated to address the known complexities of organisms and their environmental interactions.

For the full list of resources, including summaries of main points and links to papers and websites, see Human Genetic Predispositions – the hidden politics of genomic science.