The next EMBO | EMBL Science and Society conference will focus on how the use of genomic information may benefit individual and public health.
The interdisciplinary group of speakers will present the status of genetic and genomic research and discuss the ethical, legal, economic and societal implications as well as the practical challenges of implementing new knowledge into medical care.
Since the first draft of the human genome sequence more than a decade ago, and after advances in many areas of biomedical science, the role of genetics and genomics in medical research, practice and delivery of health care has been growing. Genetic information already plays an important role in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of some cancers. Recent advances in prenatal diagnostics allow detection of genetic diseases or conditions within the first trimester of pregnancy and the possibility to act on them before birth or immediately after.
Ideally, widespread use of genetic tools will allow the identification of diseases before the onset of clinical symptoms, the individualisation of drug treatment, and could induce individual behavioural changes on the basis of calculated disease risk. However, many challenges remain for the successful translation of genomic knowledge and technologies into health advances, such as medicines and diagnostics.
Some of these challenges are scientific: the relationship between genes and variants for most diseases and conditions is still not clear, nor how they interact with lifestyle and environmental factors. More research is needed to unravel these complex interactions.
Mechanisms to monitor and assess genomic medicine in comparison to current medical practices will have to be developed in order to guarantee clinical utility; health care economics will have to be considered as well.
Moreover, some policy challenges need to be resolved, including concerns about privacy and confidentiality of genetic information; the regulation and standardisation of genetic tests; and the role of general practitioners in the implementation of genetic advances.
Concerns about the possible impacts on society and individuals have also been raised, in particular on the effects of prenatal diagnostics of some genetic conditions, on the changing role of individuals and patients in making decisions about their own health, and on the psychological responses to personal genetic information.
These and other issues will be presented and discussed during the two days of the conference.
The Science and Society conference series
The aim of these joint meetings is to promote mutual interest, understanding, and dialogue between biologists, specialists from related disciplines, policy makers and members of the public interested in how modern biology affects society.
Everyone is welcome to attend.