The Big Game of Student Genetic Testing

Posted by Jesse Reynolds June 9, 2010
Biopolitical Times
"The Big Game" is the annual Stanford-UC Berkeley football match

After the University of California, Berkeley's plan to ask for samples for genetic testing from its incoming class generated controversy, its rival Stanford University announced a similar endeavor. Although it has at least one critical flaw, Stanford beats Berkeley's--for now.

At Stanford, genetic testing would be part of an elective course at its School of Medicine, in which medical "students will learn how to analyze, evaluate, and interpret the genetic data, the limitations of existing technologies, and the legal and ethical issues surrounding personal genotyping," according to GenomeWeb Daily News. The students, who already have at least bachelor's degrees and are generally in their early to mid twenties, will first spend two weeks studying the social and legal aspects of personal genetic testing, and then choose whether to undergo the genetic test. If they don't, students can use a publicly-available genome; the instructors will purportedly not know the difference. The School of Medicine is even asking the students to pay $100 for the test, to avoid the potential inducement a free one may pose.

This arrangement is a contrast to that at Berkeley, where the incoming freshman and transfer students are sent testing kits before ever setting foot on campus. Once there, they can choose (or not) to attend lectures and discussions. Although the social aspects of genetic testing are slated to be a part of these, the only talk confirmed thus far is by biotech booster Jasper Rine.

Regardless, Stanford's program appears to have been internally divisive:

Stanford said that the decision to offer the students personal genotyping was debated by a medical school task force over the past year. It said that while some task members did not favor offering the class, a majority recommended adopting it.

Furthermore, Stanford is partnering with two leading direct-to-consumer genetic testing providers, Navigenics and 23andMe. Will this be perceived as an implied endorsement of these controversial companies?

It remains to be seem whether there will be more genetic testing of students at Stanford. On the heels of Berkeley's announcement, a professor at Stanford's medical school said that its program would be a "larger scale."

Previously on Biopolitical Times: