Cheryl Woodruff

I think I can speak for most of the clinical lab industry in applauding the House of Representatives’ overwhelming passage of HR 493, the bill known as GINA—the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

GINA makes it illegal for insurers to deny coverage to individuals or to charge higher premiums based on genetic predisposition to specific diseases. The legislation also bars employers from using genetic information when making hiring, firing, job placement, and promotion decisions.

By protecting Americans from genetic discrimination, the bill closes the door on patient fear of genetic testing, and widens it for more clinical labs to get involved in what the industry is referring to as “personalized medicine.”

Since the sequencing of the human genome was completed in 2003, genetic markers have been identified for a wide variety of diseases, and a large percentage of cancers and other illnesses are known to have genetic components (see “Identifying Biomarkers” in our March issue.

This is a personal issue for me, because breast cancer is prevalent in my family; my mother, sister, cousins, and aunts on both sides of the family have had it. But because I didn’t want “breast cancer gene” to be part of my permanent medical records, I have never submitted to a genetic test. Now, thanks to GINA, women like me with family histories of breast cancer are more likely to find out whether we have the genetic mutation that might cause it.

This is referred to as “personalized medicine” because the data that labs render from genetic testing provides doctors with patient-specific information that can determine preventative measures as well as treatment. This personalized approach to medicine, some say, will revolutionize health care (see “Tight-Fitting Genes,” about pharmacogenomics in this issue.

For more information, search for “genetic testing” in our online archives.

Tremendous potential for the lab industry exists in the growth of genetic testing. Rep Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), who first introduced the bill 12 years ago, said, “GINA will help our country to be a leader in a field of scientific research that holds as much promise as any other in history.”

I’m interested in your comments and input. Please send me an e-mail, and if you will be attending the Executive War College in Miami next week, look me up.

Cheryl Woodruff