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Though Most Americans Amenable to Gene Studies, Few Know How They Might Benefit

Most Americans are “open to the idea” of using pharmacogenomics technologies to improve drug therapies, but they remain in the dark about how these technologies work, whether they can afford them, or how they may affect their own treatments, according to results of a recent survey.

“A lot of public and private research has been devoted to pharmacogenomics in the past several years, but far less attention has been paid to its ethical, legal, and social implications,” said survey author Mark Rothstein, director of the University of Louisville’s Institute for Bioethics, Health Policy and Law.

Rothstein was featured in a SNPtech Reporter Perspectives column Feb. 7. Questions to this survey are published in his book, Pharmacogenomics: Social, Ethical, and Clinical Dimensions.

The survey, funded by a $900,000 NIH grant, was designed to learn if the “average person” understands the underlying science of pharmacogenomics, Rothstein said. He found that attitudes varied significantly by education level, race, income, and age, but not by gender.

For example, nearly 80 percent of the 1,800 respondents said they were “somewhat likely or very likely” to participate in genetic research. Caucasians and Asians were between 8 percent and 10 percent “more likely” to take part in research than African Americans and Hispanics, and respondents with more education were “more willing” than those with less education to take part in research.

In addition, and perhaps not as surprisingly, when it came to performing the actual studies, respondents by a “wide margin” would most likely trust medical institutions and health organizations than the federal government or pharmaceutical companies, the survey found. Asians and Hispanics expressed more trust than Caucasians or African Americans in the federal government.

Meantime, income level factored into whether people felt they could afford pharmacogenomic-based drugs. Fewer than half of the respondents who earned $50,000 or less believed they could afford drugs derived from pharmacogenomics research. That proportion increased to roughly 75 percent of respondents with annual incomes of $100,000 or higher.

—KL

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