DNA: California Company Launches Recruiting over the Web
The California start-up DNA Sciences will launch its Web site today, DNA.com, to recruit people that will donate DNA as part of the effort to find which genes cause disease, the New York Times reports. Some researchers believe that determining which genes contribute to disease might help develop medications, but hundreds or thousands of patients likely will be necessary for the process because of genetic variation. Thus, DNA Sciences' Web site tells visitors: "The knowledge we gain from the gene trust has the potential to change medicine forever. But we can't do it without your help." Volunteers will answer questions about their medical and family histories online and then the company will come to their homes or offices to collect blood samples. Healtheon/WebMD, which owns a stake in DNA Sciences, will help recruit patients. James Watson, who discovered the DNA double helix, is a company director, while Netscape founder James Clark is an investor.
Will It Work?
Already, DNA.com is sparking controversy and raising questions about ethical and privacy issues. Some critics have said that computer hackers could infiltrate data bases and access the identity of patients. Furthermore, they said that DNA Sciences' assurances that it will not sell information to other entities such as insurers "are not ironclad." Other critics maintain that DNA Sciences' approach is flawed because volunteers could inaccurately describe their medical histories, while the pool of recruits might be too heterogeneous to detect anything. Still others have said that even if the project determines which genes contribute to disease, there might not be enough information to develop a drug. William Haseltine, CEO of Human Genome Sciences, said, "You're asking why someone gets a disease, not what to do about it." He added that there are many cases such as cystic fibrosis, where the gene "has long been known but there is still no good treatment" (Pollack, 8/1).