Pharmacogenetics: ethical issues


Published 22/09/2003

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Research in pharmacogenetics investigates how differences in our genes can affect our response to medicines.
Blood tests

People often respond differently to the same medicine. Few medicines are effective for everyone; all may cause adverse side-effects and occasionally death. These different responses are partly due to our different genetic make-up.Research in pharmacogenetics investigates how differences in our genes can affect the way in which we respond to medicines.

Pharmacogenetics has the potential to improve both the safety and efficacy of medicines. However, pharmacogenetic research and its applications raise important ethical, legal, social and regulatory issues.

This important technology will have implications for the research and development of medicines, clinical practice and treatment, and the use and storage of genetic information.

The Council published a report in 2003 which aims to encourage discussion of the issues and makes recommendations for future policy and practice.

What is pharmacogenetics?

It is the study of how genetic variation affects our response to medicines.

A pharmacogenetic test is a test to detect the presence or absence of, or change in, a particular gene or chromosome in order to predict a person’s response to a medicine. The test could be done directly, by analysing a person’s DNA, or indirectly, by examining the products of the DNA such as proteins.