July 2008

1 July 2008

In the UK, the recent NHS review from health minister Lord Darzi set out plans including measures to ensure that “clinically and cost effective innovation in medicines and medical technologies is adopted” and promised to streamline the pathway from development to clinical application (1 July), approaches that could support the practice of public health genomics.

Cancer genomics

A paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that risk profiling based on seven common susceptibility alleles for breast cancer could be of value in population screening (26 June), whilst the rare BRCA1/2 mutations associated with hereditary breast-ovarian cancer syndrome have been reported not only to significantly increase the risk of prostate cancer, but also to show association with more rapid disease progression (27 June). A major new cancer biobanking project has been launched in Canada (20 June), and regulatory approval has been sought in Europe and the US for the first gene therapy treatment for a form of cancer (8 July).

Genetic testing and screening

The American Medical Association has adopted new policies on direct-to-consumer genetic tests, including recommendations on appropriate medical supervision and counselling (25 June), whilst the Association of British Insurers has extended their moratorium on the use of genetic test results for insurance purposes from 2011 until 2014 (18 June) and the British Fertility Society has produced guidelines on the use of preimplantation genetic screening (16 June).

Two areas of direct relevance to PHG Foundation flagship projects have also featured in the news; a study reports on the use of exercise electrocardiography as a screening method to prevent sudden cardiac death in athletes, which is often caused by inherited cardiovascular disorders (7 July); these are the focus of a current needs assessment and service review. The prospects for non-invasive prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome and ethical issues (23 June) form part of a project looking at the potential and implications of the technique for the NHS and wider public.

A new common allele conferring increased susceptibility to Alzheimer disease has been identified (30 June), and it is hoped that this may inform work attempting to understand the mechanisms of the disease, and potential therapeutic interventions.

Policy and regulation

Regulation of human cloning and embryonic stem cell research has been the focus of ongoing attention, especially with the publication of research suggesting that permissive policy environments stimulate scientific progress and publication (3 July). A new report considers the ethical and social challenges posed by the rapidly expanding field of synthetic biology (20 July).

Selected new reviews and commentaries

Our selection of recent articles of interest (2 July)

Other recent news and research

See also the Genomics & Health Weekly Update from the CDC Office of Public Health Genomics.