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UC GATTACA: Stanford Follows UCB with Own Controversial DNA Testing

Posted By Alex Bigman On Jul 8, 2010 @ 9:11 pm In Sci/Tech | Comments Disabled

dna test

In a typically Stanfordian move, the rival institution trails UC Berkeley’s “Bring Your Genes to Cal” [1] program with its own smaller, more expensive and more in-depth take on student genetic self-testing. Yet, despite the relative prudence of their approach, Stanford is still incurring intense scorn [2]from bioethicists — which makes us look like completely reckless geno-hawks [3]by comparison.

Read on and we’ll bring you up to speed on both programs; plus, we’ll condense the developing ethical debate.

At Cal: Instead of assigning a book or film for incoming freshmen to (hopefully) discuss and (in theory) bond over, this year’s “On the Same Page” program will be mailing out saliva swabs to the entire incoming freshman class. Free of charge, they can opt – or not – to get their DNA analyzed for three traits: the ability to metabolize lactose, alcohol and folic acid. This will be done at Berkeley labs. Cal promises to maintain anonymity, destroy all samples and not use the results for research.

At Stanford: This summer session, an elective course called “Genetics 210: Genomics and Personalized Medicine” will be open to 50 medical and graduate school students. In it, students can opt – or not – to drop $100 and have their DNA analyzed by one of two private companies and learn about a variety of things, including their risk for certain health conditions and sensitivity to certain drugs. Measures will be taken in class to maintain anonymity. Both companies always destroy samples within a year.

Bioethical Concerns: 1) Though neither program forces participation outright, there is fear that students may feel pressured to do so. This is more of a concern with the Berkeley program, which already has giddy Facebook groups devoted to it and involves kids straight outa’ high school who are ostensibly less privy to the concerns surrounding all this. Also, the mere fact that both programs are way cheaper than a private test (these are usually in the $600 ballpark) is viewed by some as a force of coercion to participate.

2) Though both universities claim that their programs are educational, not research oriented, there is still concern about what will become of the genetic data acquired. Again, this is especially true of the Berkeley program, which will be using its own labs to extract the data and, moreover, includes the unfortunate phrase “medical research study” in its consent form.

3) There is concern over how students will interpret and react to the data they receive. Some have even raised the concern - in seriousness, we’re pretty sure – that incoming freshmen will be inclined to binge drink more after learning that they are genetically equipped to metabolize booze well. Y’know, cause they need an excuse for that. Stanford participants will receive more in the way of preparatory lectures.

Okay, so maybe Cal could have worded/thought some things through a little better. However, a lot of the ethical safeguards present in the Stanford program are precluded by the sheer size of the Berkeley effort, and, after all, the democratic nature of “Bring Your Genes to Cal” is where much of its edginess lies. Is that worth sacrificing out of bioethical concern? As long as a certain freshman [4] doesn’t incinerate himself after selling liters and liters of his blood and urine to a genomically inferior freshman [5] dead-set on going to space, we wager this will all turn out alright.

Image Source: NetDoktor.de [6]under Creative Commons
Exposing the Student Body: Stanford Joins U.C Berkeley in Controversial Genetic Testing of Students [Scientific American [2]]

Article printed from The Daily Clog: http://clog.dailycal.org

URL to article: http://clog.dailycal.org/2010/07/08/uc-gattaca-stanford-follows-ucb-with-own-controversial-dna-testing/

URLs in this post:

[1] “Bring Your Genes to Cal”: http://clog.dailycal.org/2010/05/13/dont-forget-to-pack-your-genes/

[2] incurring intense scorn : http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=exposing-the-student-body

[3] geno-hawks : http://clog.dailycal.org/2010/05/27/backlash-to-freshmen-gene-testing-we-saw-gattaca-were-not-stupid/

[4] certain freshman: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000179/

[5] genomically inferior freshman: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000160/

[6] NetDoktor.de : http://www.flickr.com/people/netdoktorde/

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