The way GPs and hospital doctors treat patients will be transformed by growing scientific understanding of the links between genetics and disease, and decreasing genetic sequencing costs, Dr Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in San Diego. But few doctors have the knowledge of genetics to take advantages of these advances, he said.
Many doctors are also resistant to including more genetics in medical school syllabuses. 'Changing medical education is one of the most challenging aspects of what needs to happen', The Times reported Dr Collins as saying. 'We are working against great resistance, I am afraid. There are many practising docs out there who will tell you that genetics is irrelevant'.
'They might have just seen two patients with diabetes, one with heart disease, another with Alzheimer’s, but genetics, they would say, is irrelevant to their practice. I was on the faculty of the University of Michigan for ten years, trying to get a little more genetics into the curriculum. You can’t believe the blood that got spilt over just one hour — it was easier to sequence the human genome than to change one hour of medical curriculum'.
But patient demand and direct-to-consumer genetic tests provided by companies like 23andMe may help drive change. 'They will come in waving sheets of paper, saying, 'I have just had my DNA analysed by 23andMe and it says I am at risk for diabetes, and will you interpret that? Docs don't like to be embarrassed, so I suspect that will drive some degree of urgency', Dr Collins reportedly said.
Sequencing a person's DNA will cost less than £1,000 within a couple of years, according to The Times. And researchers have now identified hundreds of genetic variants associated with people's risk of disease and responses to medicine.
The Times previously reported that the National Genetics Education and Development Centre has begun to review the medical curriculum in light of these advances, and a House of Lords report last year also said that medical education should be revised.