Under Pressure, UC Berkeley Won't Tell Students Gene Test Results

In what struck us a little like one of those old Mickey Rooney movies where he organizes the neighborhood kids to put on a show, the University of California, Berkeley has a bold plan to convene a campus discussion about genetic testing by having incoming freshmen submit saliva samples for a DNA assay.


The genetic truth won't be set free for some college freshmen in California. iStockphoto.com hide caption

toggle caption iStockphoto.com

The genetic truth won't be set free for some college freshmen in California.


"We wanted to spark the interest of these students because, whether they like it or not, their genetic information will be used in their medical treatment in their future — and that future is only a few years a way," a university spokesman tells KQED's Sarah Varney.

Now, the plan is being trimmed back a bit.

Under pressure from state health regulators, the university won't give participating students their individual results. That sort of personal information, the state said, would constitute a medical test, and would need to be ordered by a doctor and performed by a certified lab.

So, instead, the university will provide only group results on the genetic variations that influence the metabolism of folic acid, dairy products and alcohol.

The university is pressing the state for a more detailed explanation. The faculty who came up with the idea and some students are disappointed.

But others say the change is prudent. Jesse Reynolds, policy analyst at the Center for Genetics and Society, says the state health department didn't dictate educational policy. Instead, it said:

[T]his is a medical test and you are conducting a medical test on thousands of young men and women without the involvement of a physician and without using an appropriately certified laboratory. These are not curriculum issues.

Campus lectures on the testing results will go on. Berkeley's Mark Schlissel, dean of biological sciences, tells NPR they will focus more heavily on who should control genetic information – individuals, physicians or government agencies. Oh, and, he plans to ask California’s public health director to join one of the panel discussions.

Update: Just to be clear, students' participation in the gene test voluntary.



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