The exciting realm of genetic research could prove revolutionary as researchers begin to scratch the surface of its implications for health care. Genetic modification allows medical professionals to affect patients at a minute level. Initiatives never before possible could become conceivable and, with time, perhaps even a part of standard procedure. However with new advancements and abilities, they also come with often complex questions of ethicality and legality. As health care trends continue to extend into genetic modification, the legal and ethical uncertainties of such development must be given careful consideration.
Legal and Ethical Ramifications of Genetic Modification
According to the Library of Congress, no federal legislations yet exist that address Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s). The current stance of the American government is that products should be regulated in their complete and usable form, not during their production. While this premise has been, at this point, only applied to items such as genetically modified livestock and agricultural food products, a future that includes much more genetic modification in realms that extend beyond food is close at hand. American legislative bodies must prepare themselves to deal with cases that involve much more genetic modification, specifically within health care.
In addition to legal statutes, fundamental ethical questions will need to be addressed as genetic modification becomes more widely utilized. Issues of ownership, prioritization, employment, health insurance, citizenship and basic human rights could become muddled and require clarification when essential changes to a person or elements of that person are made.
Genetic Modification Trends
Branches of genetic modification, though still in their infancy, are beginning to take shape and are already allowing trends to form that will continue to strengthen as time goes on. Here are a few trends emerging within the field of genetic modification:
● Genomic data integrated into clinical workflows. Still a nascent practice, utilizing genomic data when making treatment decisions for any patient is quickly becoming a sought-after ability because of its heightened accuracy and ability to avoid procedures that could actually harm the patient or cause an undesired result. An example of this in play is the utilization of checking for certain genes in female patients before deciding whether or not mastectomies are necessary in the treatment of possible or confirmed breast cancer. Certain genes, when mutated, can make patients much more susceptible to breast cancer than if those genes exist in their normal form within the patient. Checking the condition of those genes in a patient can provide sharp clarity for an attending physician as they consider treatment options.
● Maternity genetic screening. It is currently possible to have an unborn child screened for select chromosomal conditions including Down Syndrome by using non-invasive techniques to explore the baby’s genome. Medical professionals predict that having a baby’s entire genome sequenced before birth could become commonplace in as early as the coming one to two decades. This information could provide insights that might influence what drugs are administered, what weaknesses or predispositions the parents should watch for and more.
● New data streams. Genetic data can not only influence the care of an individual patient, but when combined and synthesized with the information gained from an entire population of patients, could allow for unprecedented understanding and advancements. Access to the amount of data that genetic sequencing affords could drastically affect the way we look at public health care.
● Noninvasive cancer screening. Early studies using a process called DNA liquid biopsy testing are being conducted to test the viability of using genetic DNA analysis on drawn blood to indicate the presence of cancer. The current process for determining the existence of cancerous cells and tumors requires medical imaging procedures or tissue biopsies, both of which require significant time and resources. However, with the new procedure that is currently undergoing analysis, it is conceivable that a patient could be screened for cancer via a simple draw of blood.
● Pharmacogenomics. This emerging field combines pharmacology (or the study and science of drugs) with genomics (the study of the human gene). By studying the varying effects of drugs on patients based on the differences that exist within each person’s individual genome, medical professionals can better predict what effects a drug might have on a given patient before administering it. This can help increase their effectiveness and reduce the number of negative and sometimes harmful or even lethal effects an inappropriate drug can induce.
Genetic modification and its escalating place in today’s health care trends could soon make unprecedented changes to health care, preventative medicine, pharmacology and population health. However, its fundamental implications and unexplored ethical and legal territories make it an exciting and daunting landscape for the future of medicine.
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