Practical Applications of Genetics: What the Genomics Revolution Means to You and Your Company

November 03, 2000
John Hancock Conference Center
Boston, MA
Co-Chairs: Andrew Grainger, New England Legal Foundation
Conference Description:
Every human being is unique. Each of us has 100,000 or so genes, which influence our physiology. This set of genes, called a genome, contains approximately 3 billion bits of information in each person. Our genome affects not only what we look like, but also may predict which diseases we develop. Now that the preliminary sequence of the human genome has been completed, genetic science will begin to identify each gene and determine its function.

The effect of this capability will make the word "revolution" seem woefully inadequate. It is estimated today that genetic errors are responsible for 3,000 to 4,000 hereditary disorders; they play a part in our most common diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. The opportunities to predict, and eventually treat, disease with genetic technology appears limitless. Today, gene therapy trials are already underway in treating cystic fibrosis and hypertension.

It is probably impossible for us to appreciate fully the effect that genetic testing will have on our society and its institutions. There will certainly be consequences that we cannot predict. We are already, however, confronting the need for both conceptual and practical responses to ethical, legal and public policy issues that are raised by genetic testing.

In the next few years, the business community, its leaders and every individual business large or small will be required, at a minimum, to face:

  • Dramatic changes in underwriting major forms of insurance,

  • Transformation in corporate healthcare and benefit plans, and

  • A rewriting of the basic rules relating to employer/employee relationships and personal privacy rights and expectations.