Predicting life span – an ethical nightmare

One of the most fascinating articles earlier this year was the report of Timmers et al.  about the “Genomics of 1 million parent lifespans implicates novel pathways and common diseases and distinguishes survival chances“.   The British-Swiss-Estonian-Chinese-US collaboration identified by genome-wide SNP association of 1 million parental lifespan some new genes (ABO, ZC3HC1, and IGF2R) and replicate others (CDKN2B-AS1, ATXN2/BRAP, FURIN/FES, ZW10, PSORS1C3, 5q33.3/EBF1 and FOXO3).

Most of the variance is explained by disease variants that lead to dementia, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer – of course people die of disease and not by bad genes. So whether correct or not, what worries me more is the construction of polygenic hisk scores that show a mean lifespan difference of around five years of life across the deciles.

This may become an ethical nightmare whenever treatment allocation will dependent on a polygenetic risk score that is largely irrelevant in an individual.