Gene Therapy, Genetic Testing, and Uses of Genetic Information - Case J3
It is several years into the future. Professor Ken Tanaka's studies
generalizing the ligand specific polymerase chain reaction, in
combination with the wide variety of gene segments now available,
have allowed him to develop a ligand-specific chain reaction (LCR)
assay that can detect in utero genetic predisposition to almost 200
genetic and congenital conditions. These include:
Early onset Alzheimer's disease
Diabetes mellitus (types
Cystic fibrosis I and II)
LDL receptor defects
Sickle cell disease
Prof. Tanaka has been approached by a major clinica1laboratory
company to license the method. They promise to create a prenatal
diagnostic package that for $1,000 will provide information about all
of these conditions during the 14th week of gestation from a
placental biopsy. The test would provide similar information about
newborns using a blood sample.
The company wishes to take advantage of developments in genetics
to extend the profile by at least 200 conditions each year. Prof.
Tanaka can anticipate testing for 1,000 genes within four years or
The financial return to him and the university promises to be
enormous, but he has misgivings.
- What might be some of Dr. Tanaka's misgivings?
- Would your opinion of Dr. Tanaka's assay be different if the
test were restricted to newborns?
- Does your level of concern with regard to the diagnostic
package depend in any way on the conditions for which it would
test? If so, why do you feel differently about testing for some
genetic or congenital conditions as compared to others? The
conditions listed in the case are all diseases and disabilities.
What concerns, if any, would you have about using these tests to
ascertain gender, sexual orientation, or, constitutional short
- Assuming the technology is available to do so, do you believe
that there are any conditions for which one should not test? On
- What would be your criteria for determining whether it is
ethically or otherwise acceptable to test for a given
- As the Human Genome Project progresses, much concern has been
generated with regard to the potential uses of the genetic
information that will inevitably become available. The potential
for abuse of genetic information has led some to question whether
the Human Genome Project should continue. Discuss whether the
potential applications of the knowledge gained through any course
of research should serve as grounds for arresting research
- Someone else will shortly develop technologies with a similar
capacity to Dr. Tanaka's. How does that affect your thinking?