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Leicester 2002 Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Experts urge genetic test controls
Will pharmacies sell gene test kits?
The sale of over-the-counter genetic tests in the UK should be strictly controlled, experts have warned.

The Human Genetics Commission is currently considering what restrictions, if any, should be placed on genetic tests.

But scientists at the British Association's science festival in Leicester have urged officials against allowing pharmacies or high street stores to sell testing kits.


There should be careful restrictions on the sale of genetic tests of any kind

Dr Lindsay Prior
They have warned that genetic testing is complex and must be overseen by specialists.

Dr Lindsay Prior, a reader in sociology at Cardiff University, told the meeting that giving the public easy access to genetic testing may do more harm than good.

"The public may be tricked into paying a lot of money for these tests which may not do them much good and may in fact mislead them," he told BBC News Online.

Family history

Genetic testing involves an analysis of a DNA sample. But when doctors are trying to assess the risk of breast cancer, for example, they will also ask about family medical history.

Any over-the-counter tests are unlikely to include this sort of assessment.

Dr Prior warned that checking family history is often as important as a DNA analysis.

"As far as complex conditions like breast cancer or colorectal cancer are concerned you need both sides of the picture," he said.

"The low-tech and hi-tech parts are important. However, commercial organisations are only interested in selling the test."

Dr Prior also told the meeting that allowing members of the public to buy genetic test kits from pharmacies and other outlets raised serious ethical questions.

"If an individual finds out something about themselves then it will have implications for their brothers and sisters and any children they may wish to have," he said.

The Human Genetics Commission is currently consulting on proposals to place restrictions on genetic testing. That process closes in October.

"The Human Genetics Commission is right to ask these questions because commercial organisations get into these areas quite quickly without thinking through the implications," Dr Prior said.

But he added: "There should be careful restrictions on the sale of genetic tests of any kind.

BA science festival at Leicester University.

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