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Not Up to the Promise

Proponents of the Human Genome Project and subsequent studies have promoted the notion that genomic medicine would lead to numerous health benefits for all, but the Hastings Center's Erik Parens argues in an opinion piece at Scientific American that the COVID-19 pandemic shows how that promise falls short.

The virus, he notes, has disportionately affected some US communities over others. But while genetics does appear to play a role in some COVID-19 susceptibility, Parens says "no geneticist is suggesting that genetic differences are an important part of the explanation for why the virus impacts different social groups differently." Instead, factors such as limited access to jobs, nutrition, and clean air and water as well as other underlying health conditions appear to have a greater influence on disease susceptibility, he adds.

Parens argues there is a need to "recalibrate the hope and money" invested in genetics, noting that "recalibration is not abandonment." 

"[T]he tools of genetics research may be key to bringing our current healthcare crisis to an end," he adds. "But those tools will not reduce, much less eliminate, the health disparities that are produced by the unjust social conditions that are so excruciatingly obvious in our current crisis."