A personalized-medicine initiative at the University of California at Berkeley, “Bring Your Genes to Cal,” has been told to halt operations—despite the fact that about 12% of the incoming freshman class have reportedly already volunteered to participate.
The California Department of Public Health yesterday instructed the school to stop the program, according to a university news release. However, the release noted that a bill introduced in the state Legislature calling for the program to be halted was voted down yesterday in a state Senate committee.
The program involves testing freshmen's voluntarily donated saliva samples for three common genetic variants that help identify how their body metabolizes milk, alcohol and folic acid (vitamin B9). The university reported that about 600 of the more than 5,000 incoming freshmen had signed up to participate. Saliva samples are kept in containers marked with a bar code to ensure anonymity and to allow students to look up their own individual test results, according to the university.
The university argued that the program should not be subject to state laws mandating that medical diagnostic laboratories and the genetic tests they conduct be certified for accuracy and reliability because it is an educational experiment and because the students are not patients and the specific variants tested for are not disease-related. The Department of Public Health disagreed.
The Berkeley-based Center for Genetics and Society applauded the cancellation of the program and said it was “misconceived and hastily constructed” and serves as a reminder that the development and use of these new technologies “cannot be left to the researchers alone.”
The university said it would still analyze the samples in a campus research lab but that all results would be released in aggregate, with no individuals receiving their personal results.
Cal-Berkeley spokesman Robert Sanders said state health department officials told university officials at a meeting to halt the program. The school has requested but not yet received written instructions or orders from the state, he added.