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Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 17:09 GMT
New controls on genetic tests
Genetic test, bbc
Genetic tests raise social, ethical and legal concerns
The UK Government's advisory body on genetics is set to recommend tougher controls on the sale of genetic testing kits.

The Human Genetics Commission (HGC) has been consulting on the issue, and is expected to advise ministers to regulate tests sold direct to the public.

Failure to regulate would be bad for health, bad for business, and potentially disastrous for public trust in human genetics

GeneWatch UK
Some claim to predict an individual's chance of developing diseases such as heart disease and obesity. Others give nutritional advice based on an individual's genetic profile.

At a meeting in London on Wednesday, the HGC said it would recommend new controls. A final report is due in the spring.

Concerns

Baroness Helena Kennedy, Chair of the HGC, said: "Today we discussed a number of concerns, including the impact on individuals of predictive genetic tests without appropriate support or counselling.

"Following these discussions it seems likely that the HGC will recommend a mixture of new controls and safe-guards, according to the seriousness of the test."

Under the proposals, serious predictive genetic tests would be available only through doctors. Other tests, such as those related to diet, might be made available more widely.

The commission is likely to recommend that the new Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is responsible for making these kinds of decisions.

The move has been welcomed by watchdog groups. Dr Helen Wallace of GeneWatch UK said the proposals were a welcome step towards proper regulation of the industry.

"Ministers must now act swiftly to put the necessary controls in place," she said. "Failure to regulate would be bad for health, bad for business, and potentially disastrous for public trust in human genetics."

Lifestyle advice

Consumer groups are concerned that people may be misled about their health or persuaded to take unnecessary medicines and supplements by the tests.

Overweight man, bbc
Genetic tests for obesity are being developed
In Britain, private health practitioners are already giving diet and lifestyle advice based on knowledge of an individual's genetic make-up.

The genetic tests, made by a UK company, Sciona, target a variety of genes involved in the breakdown of food, chemicals and alcohol.

More tests are planned, for genes linked with obesity, cardiovascular disease and skin problems.

Sciona, based in Havant, Hampshire, makes seven genetic tests which it is selling through a network of private GPs and nutritionists.

Genetic screens for more serious conditions such as Alzheimer's and depression are already available over the internet in the US.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Niall Dickson
"For many of us genetic testing may seem a bit of a novelty"
See also:

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10 Sep 02 | Leicester 2002
15 Jul 02 | Health
24 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
23 Sep 02 | Science/Nature
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