2008 April

Eye on DNA Headlines for 30 April 2008

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 30, 2008 in Eye on DNA Headlines

  • Scienceblogs Gene Expression hosts Gene Genie #30.
  • Thank you to the Missouri State Genealogical Association (MoSGA) Messenger for sharing Eye on DNA with its readers!
  • dna-blue-skyDNA inspires not just scientists but artists too. Check out Digital 3d Art created by a “quantum theoretician involved in studying life at a molecular particle level.”
  • Are we in for another Myriad genetic test ad uproar? Identigene (more from Eye on DNA), sellers of over-the-counter paternity tests, have hired STG Media Corp to create TV, print, and radio ads that will “not only inform consumers that the product is out there, but that will also demonstrate that the product actually works.”
  • A “major television network” (I can vouch for their authenticity) is looking for people to interview. Here’s what they sent me:

    For an upcoming series on genetic testing, a major television network would like to interview a person who has ordered an online gene test to assess their future risk of getting certain diseases. Twelve complaints have been filed with the california Dept of Health and the New York State Dept of Health has sent letters explaining the legal ramifications of testing New York residents without the proper clinical laboratory permit. Most of these complaints are anonymous. Would anyone speak on-camera to their issues and share their personal experience ordering one of these tests and getting the results? Please call 917 991 3689 or write to Theodora12@gmail.com.

(>> Start a discussion!)


What does DNA mean to you? #3

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 30, 2008 in Meaning of DNA

dna dundeeThis week, I asked Bertalan Mesko of Scienceroll:

What does DNA mean to you?

Even if the structure of DNA was discovered more than 50 years ago, DNA means the future for me. As personalized genetics is getting closer to people, DNA will be one of the most used words and not just in the scientific community. Plenty of the therapies used in our time will be revolutionized soon and our DNA will play the main role in the future of medicine regardless the dangers it can lead to.

(1 comment)


Gene Patents and Genetic Testing

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 29, 2008 in DNA Testing, DNA and the Law

dna structureThe European Society of Human Genetics (ESHG) has published recommendations on gene patents as applied to genetic testing in the European Journal of Human Genetics. The chair of the working group, Professor Gert Matthijs of the Catholic University of Leuven, said:

This new proposal aims to reconcile what until now have appeared to be conflicting interests patent owners, commercial companies, health authorities, policy makers, geneticists with the ultimate goal of ensuring that patients retain access to the latest technological advances.

Key points include:

  1. Patents benefit society through innovation and promoting progress.
  2. The definition of “invention” vs. “discovery” with the identification of genes, mutations, links between genetic defect and disease are deemed to be discoveries by some and thus would be unethical to patent.
  3. Patenting novel technical tools for genetic testing is a good way to promote investment and allow for invention.
  4. Genetic tests that examine a panel of genes will be impacted negatively by gene patents.
  5. Genetic tests combined with protein or metabolite measurements will also have to consider multiple patents.
  6. Patent applications do not take into account clinical validity and utility.
  7. There are international differences in patent systems which affect the availability of genetic services worldwide.
  8. Gene patents are overly broad and include not just the sequence but also protein and antibodies, etc.

Access to genetic testing can be impeded every step of the way from the discovery of new genes and mutations all the way up to availability of genetic tests. Right now, most of us concentrate on who has the right to have a genetic test and how. Another consideration clearly has to be who will develop the genetic tests and what intellectual property rights they have over their work.

As Michael Crichton said in a New York Times op-ed against gene patents:

Gene patents are now used to halt research, prevent medical testing and keep vital information from you and your doctor. Gene patents slow the pace of medical advance on deadly diseases. And they raise costs exorbitantly: a test for breast cancer that could be done for $1,000 now costs $3,000.

Should we prohibit the patenting of genes? Take the poll in this previous Eye on DNA post.



Geeky DNA T-Shirts from the San Francisco Exploratorium

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 29, 2008 in Geeky DNA T-shirts

For the 2007 National DNA Day, San Francisco’s Exploratorium Explainers mocked up some DNA t-shirts.

exploratorium dna tshirt

exploratorium dna tshirt 2

exploratorium dna tshirt 3

Seen any t-shirts for last week’s 2008 National DNA Day?

(>> Start a discussion!)


What’s in your DNA? #28

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 27, 2008 in In Your DNA

The DNA Restaurant in Old Montreal, Quebec Canada isn’t really named after the DNA we like best.

Though the name may have you conjuring up medical reports and murder trials, DNA actually stands for Derek ‘n’ Alex, Derek being Dammann, and Alex being Alex Cruz, the suave maitre d’ and resident wine expert. (The Gazette)

dna no drinkingLee at Tokyo Times reports from Japan on a collection of coasters that tell people you’re not into downing alcoholic drinks in one gulp. One of the coasters says:

I can’t drink – it’s not in my DNA.

Danielle Parsons at Am I There Yet? is challenging herself to accomplish 101 things in 1001 days:

So no more someday (which, presumably, is the day that I’ll get there). I may not be able to radically overhaul of my life, and quit procrastinating on everything that I want to do (anyone who knows me well knows procrastination is embedded in my DNA) – but I am going to do 101 things in 1001 days.



DNA Video: Leah Sparks of DNA Direct

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 26, 2008 in Business of DNA, DNA Podcasts and Videos, DNA Testing

Interview with Leah Sparks, VP Business Development of DNA Direct from Doug Cress on Vimeo.

San Francisco-based DNA Direct* has created a web- and phone-based virtual genetics clinic. Genetic testing results can be complex, and inmost cases, do not provide definitive “yes” or “no” answers. DNA Direct focuses on personalized test result interpretation and supportive services.

*I’m the Genetic Information Specialist at DNA Direct.

(>> Start a discussion!)


Happy DNA Day!

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 25, 2008 in DNA Fun

Be a nerd and celebrate National DNA Day with us!

DNA Diagnostics Center has two DNA Day eCards–Happy DNA Day Helix Flower and Do The Twist on DNA Day–in honor of the event. (HT: DNA Network member The DNA Testing Blog’s Top Ten Things to Do on DNA Day!)


The National Human Genome Research Institute has more activities planned for National DNA Day including a live online chatroom and DNA Day speaker presentations.



Books About DNA: The Century of the Gene by Evelyn Fox Keller

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 25, 2008 in Books About DNA, DNA Quotes and Excerpts, DNA in General

century geneThe Century of the Gene by Evelyn Fox Keller

In a book that promises to change the way we think and talk about genes and genetic determinism, Evelyn Fox Keller, one of our most gifted historians and philosophers of science, provides a powerful, profound analysis of the achievements of genetics and molecular biology in the twentieth century, the century of the gene. Not just a chronicle of biology’s progress from gene to genome in one hundred years, The Century of the Gene also calls our attention to the surprising ways these advances challenge the familiar picture of the gene most of us still entertain.

In a CBC Radio interview, Dr. Evelyn Fox Keller talks more about genes and public perception. (HT: Women in Science)

For more discussion on what is a gene, see this Genome Research article – What is a gene, post-ENCODE? History and updated definition.

…we propose a tentative update to the definition of a gene: A gene is a union of genomic sequences encoding a coherent set of potentially overlapping functional products.

DNA Network member Sandra Porter at Discovering Biology in a Digital World gave her definition of a gene last year.

(>> Start a discussion!)


American College of Medical Genetics Policy Statement on Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 24, 2008 in DNA Testing


The American College of Medical Genetics (ACMG) has just released their “5 minimum requirements for any genetic testing protocol.”

  1. A knowledgeable health professional should be involved in the process of ordering and interpreting a genetic test.
  2. The consumer should be fully informed regarding what the test can and cannot say about his or her health.
  3. The scientific evidence on which a test is based should be clearly stated.
  4. The clinical testing laboratory must be accredited by CLIA, the State and/or other applicable accrediting agencies.
  5. Privacy concerns must be addressed.

Michael S. Watson, PhD, FACMG, executive director of the American College of Medical Genetics:

Geneticists and genetic counselors are the “professional guides to the human genome” and can help patients make informed decisions about choices related to genetic testing and provide invaluable support and guidance in interpreting test results in light of personal and family history. This is not an area where people should really “go it alone.”

Click here for the full ACMG policy statement (pdf).

In May, ACMG will be broadcasting a medical genetics radio program in a SkyRadio Network show – 21st Century Health Forum. It will air on audio-equipped flights of American Airlines and Northwest Airlines. Let me know if you catch it!

via EurekAlert!



Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) Nears Unanimous Consent Passage in U.S. Senate

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 23, 2008 in DNA and the Law

us capitolAbout an hour ago, Sharon Terry of Genetic Alliance sent out an email regarding the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Here’s an excerpt:

OK all – unbelievable as it is, GINA is all set for UC [unanimous consent] passage in the Senate!!!

There is not time today to do the roll call vote, so the big day is tomorrow. The Senate convenes at 10 AM, but we do not know what time the Bill will come up.

GINA was first proposed in 1995 by Louise Slaughter, a House Democrat from western New York. According to the New York Times, if the bill is brought to the Senate floor tomorrow, debate would be limited to two hours with one amendment to address the possibility of employers being sued.

Under GINA:

Life and long-term care insurance coverages, however, are not part of GINA.

For more information, visit Coalition for Genetic Fairness.

Update (24 April 2008): GINA passed the Senate by unanimous consent of 95-0. Now it will be sent to President Bush so that he can sign the measure into law.



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