Category: Genetics

Ethical issues dog genetic testing and biobanks

IT COULD change the way disease is diagnosed and treated: millions of human tissue samples, their information stored in vast databases, allowing health researchers to trawl for patterns.

The patterns could point to disease risk among population groups, and could one day lead to the possibility of personalised medicine. This sort of research is particularly important for Africa, whose populations are caught between infectious diseases, such as malaria, on the one hand, and lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes, on the other. Africans have historically been neglected in the field of genetic research.

“The unique genome dynamics in African populations have an important role to play in understanding human health and susceptibility,” Wits University’s Prof Michele Ramsay, chairwoman of the South African Society for Human Genetics, wrote in 2012.

For more, find the article — originally published in Business Day — here.

Stem cell research outstrips legislation

It starts in a dish: a collection of cells that can be made to grow into corneas, hearts or livers, or used to treat currently incurable diseases. This is the future that stem cell therapies could offer us, but the path to that future is strewn with ethical and legal pitfalls that South Africa needs strong laws and regulations to govern.

“The law has struggled to keep pace with science and medicine,” said Professor Michael Pepper, the director of the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Pretoria. “Things move too quickly and the law lags behind.”

Although there are only a few proven stem cell therapy treatments, namely blood stem cell transplants such as bone marrow transplants and skin stem cell grafts, future developments in the field could alter the trajectory of healthcare.


For more, find the article — originally published in Mail & Guardian — here.

The Murky Morality of Biobanking

Biobanks are in short supply in South Africa, a place whose inhabitants have some of the greatest genetic diversity in the world. These repositories of human tissue, used for health research, could save lives as scientists find links between diseases and population groups – and, possibly, cures to currently untreatable diseases. But in giving consent for researchers to use your tissue, you are in effect also giving consent on behalf of your parents, family members and children – and possibly all those who share your genetics.

Biobanks are “a major advance in terms of science and technology”, says Professor Ames Dhai, director of the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics at the University of the Witwatersrand.

A bank containing hundreds of thousands, possibly even millions, of samples with the donors’ medical and demographic information would allow scientists to conduct research with the possibility of statistically significant results. This could pave the way for personalised medicine tailored to South Africa’s population.


For more, find the article — originally published in Mail & Guardian — at