Saturday, March 03, 2007

Nit-picking   posted by p-ter @ 3/03/2007 03:05:00 PM

An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year made the case for reconsidering studying the genetics of traits like smoking, arguing that the benefits or such research are limited, at best. I don't totally disagree with the points they make, but statements like this just never should have made it past reviewers:
[I]ncreasingly popular genome-wide association studies have thus far demonstrated only modest success (ie, logarithmic odds [LOD] score of 2.7 for smoking dependence in identifying influential candidate genes. What is the likelihood that further studies will ultimately lead to a gene variant (or gene variants) with both overwhelming influence and ability to affect significant changes in behavior commensurate with community-based interventions?
The study they cite is, of course, not a genome-wide association study, but rather a genome-wide linkage study. The two are not that same thing, and if this reflects a deeper misunderstaning of the different approaches used to map variation underlying traits in humans (as opposed to a simple brain freeze), the authors really have no idea what "the likelihood that further studies will ultimately lead to a gene" is, nor did they bother to think about their question very seriously.

Their article elicited a response, and the response to the response includes this gem:
In response to Dr Bierut and colleagues, the central motivation of our Commentary was not to curtail research funding, and we hope that a careful reading will dissuade others from this interpretation. Rather, we argued for wise use of public resources.
Ah, right, of course. Funny how that non-call for curtailing funding included this:
Genetics studies should be acknowledged as currently unlikely to lead to improved lung cancer prevention compared with the proven, non-genetic-based strategies for smoking cessation outlined above. Even as an interim measure, genetic testing should be secondary in funding and emphasis to universal measures to decrease smoking. And given the obvious dangers of tobacco and the associated imperative to eliminate it, research undertaken purely to unravel mechanisms of tobacco-related cancer is difficult to justify, unless the research can be shown to provide insight into fundamental cancer pathophysiology