Possibilities and Limits of Genetic Testing for the Prediction and Diagnosis of Widespread Severe Diseases

Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Leibniz-Saal, Jägerstraße 22/23, 10117 Berlin

Referenten und Ratsmitglieder im Gespräch, Deutscher Ethikrat, Fotograf: Reiner Zensen


In recent years, considerable progress has been made in molecular genetic research which promises new applications in medicine with regard to identifying the causes of diseases and risk prognoses. As a result, genetic analyses are increasingly becoming an integral part of common clinical practice. However, genetic findings can carry potentially far-reaching consequences. For example, the current discussion on the non-invasive prenatal screening test for trisomy 21 has shown that new diagnostic methods can have profound social consequences, e.g. for dealing with disability.

In light of these developments, the Federal Government has commissioned the German Ethics Council to prepare an Opinion on the future of genetic diagnosis.

In this context, the Ethics Council would like to shed light on the current and expected future possibilities and limits of predictive genetic diagnostics for multifactorial diseases at a public hearing on 3 May 2012. During a hearing in March, experts already informed about scientific and technical developments in methods of genetic diagnostics.

The hearing on 3 May will focus on how these new methods can already be applied to determine disease risks and what developments can be expected in this field in the next years. The focus will be on the use of genetic diagnostics in predicting widespread common diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, gastrointestinal, psychiatric and metabolic diseases.

The risk of developing such diseases is determined by many different genetic and environmental factors, which interact differently in each individual. Extensive studies involving a large number of individuals (genome-wide association studies) are needed to determine the role of these factors. In addition, the hearing will address the related challenges in the fields of genetic epidemiology, bioinformatics and regarding the establishment and use of biobanks.

We cordially invite members of the public to attend this hearing as members of the audience.